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Scan the World
Reviewed December 2017

Reviewed December 2017
Josh Meyer, Knowledge Manager, KieranTimberlake | Architecture, Planning, Research

Scan the World is a web-based resource that aims to archive the world’s objects and artifacts of cultural significance using 3D scanning technologies for the purpose of creating content suitable for 3D printing. This free, crowdsourced project is a segment of MyMiniFactory, one of the most popular 3D printable object-sharing platforms. Online-based 3D printing communities have emerged in the past five years as a way for 3D designers to share their works and build large centralized repositories of available designs to print from anywhere. MyMiniFactory distinguishes itself from other communities (popular sites include Thingiverse, Shapeways, and Pinshape) for being one of the few that undergoes a peer review process of files, which effectively guarantees that models will print accurately. Additionally, all files are free to access, download, and print. In lieu of monetization incentives, content creators are instead rewarded through the site's built in features for self-promotion. The website’s community-curated collection was launched in 2013 as an open source platform with over 30,000 3D printable files and a community of 200,000 users. Scan the World was introduced in June 2014, and over 21,000 printing hours have been documented. 

scantheworld 01Apart from being a global inventory project for cultural objects, Scan the World has philanthropic objectives that nicely illustrate how 3D printing technology can address complex problems. The technology is used in the medical field to fashion customized parts for patients. It is touted as a sustainability tool for upcycling and prolonging the life of everyday objects by easily making spare parts. Scan the World’s higher purpose lies in leveraging 3D technology to enhance education, preservation, restoration, and accessibility of its collection. It actively works with its targeted user base of museums, galleries, artists, collectors, and arts aficionados to undertake scanning projects that in turn can be used by institutions for rich learning and discovery opportunities. A great example of this is a recent collaboration with the V&A’s Digital Design Weekend event that was part of the London Design Festival. Eleven sculptures in the museum were scanned and printed to be used in interactive installations, workshops, and digital classrooms, while over 450 museum objects were made free to download and print. Partnerships on a smaller scale have also been implemented at The Louvre (Venus de Milo statue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (busts of Julius Caesar and Hercules), as well as The Collection Museum, Lincoln (Albert Einstein sculpture). 

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This resource is hyped as being 100% community driven. Presently, over 9,100 printable scanned sculptures have been added to the collection through crowdsourcing and partnerships. In “citizen science” fashion, the initiative offers at least three simple ways for the public to participate in the project: volunteer scanning of a sculpture using photogrammetry (in return, StW will send you a printed model of your submission); scanathon events held at festivals and intuitions such as the one at the V&A; and, for the technically inclined, volunteers are welcome to clean up 3D models using Rhino or zBrush.

The user experience for accessing these activities on the Scan the World website is clear and focused with friendly instruction. The interface is tastefully organized around a tile view display of thumbnail images of the collection, which can be sorted by community authors, institutional collection, or featured works. An advanced search bar and map view provide additional opportunities for discovery. Clicking a thumbnail image pulls up a complete record of the object, including printing details, technical information, object parts, metadata, user submitted photographs, and download information.

Those linked to art and cultural heritage collections should seriously consider this tool as a free, open-source option for inventorying objects in a 3D format and for engaging with and educating the public, as well as a way to bring new relevancy to objects through emerging technology.