I was in New York a few weeks ago to see a couple of plays, Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart in Pinter and Beckett. Heaven! I was also in town on a day that there was a Hack Day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so after a serendipitous tweet from a colleague, I made my way up to the Upper East Side and spent a few enjoyable hours in the Met, playing around with 3D, scanning things, meeting new people and having a blast.

I got a chance to see how the Met is embodying the kinds of change that so many museums (PEM included) are contemplating, and I came away invigorated by their entrepreneurial, almost start-up like culture. Such a change from just a few years ago.

The Sense handheld 3D scanner

The Sense handheld 3D scanner

One of the best parts of the event was that Don Undeen (of the Museum Computer Network Ignite talk) was demoing a relatively new and inexpensive 3D Systems Sense scanner with the Hack Day crew.

Yours truly. Not bad quality…

Yours truly. Not bad quality…

I got scanned at a crazy drunken angle. How, I don’t know. I was sitting up straight, still as a statue, as Don worked his way around me. I think when he was cropping the scan afterwards he solidified it by filling in the bottom at that rakish angle.

Scanning party. Don’s holding the laptop as I walk around the statue, trying to get a clean capture.

Scanning party. Don’s holding the laptop as I walk around the statue, trying to get a clean capture.

Getting to try the scanner out on the galleries was a highlight of the trip. It kind of reminded me of Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence.  Thinking of the scanner as a spray-can and “painting” up and down across the surface to be scanned seemed to give the best results.  Strangely, it also worked better the less you tried to be thorough. Loose, big gestures seemed to generate better scans than small, careful ones.

The technology is interesting, but I don’t know how much better the results were from simpler, photographic methods like 123DCatch. I couldn’t tell from looking at the screen. The mesh size seemed comparable and the software was challenging. Every scan we attempted ended with the scanner losing tracking on the object. My sense is that the developers were trying so hard to make a consumer product that they went overboard on what the software was doing in the background to let you focus on scanning.

Even though my scanning experience wasn’t 100% successful, I felt like the learning experience was. We were a group of self-selected learners, teaching each other and learning together as fast as we could, and we scaffolded each other into greater knowledge in a way that probably would’ve taken a lot longer if we’d each done it individually.


A 3D printout of the scan, printed by Shapeways

Learning as a team sport

Last week, some colleagues and I spent a lunch hour watching SkillShare videos on 3D printing together as we brainstorm new kinds of digital programming we might offer visitors in the future. The information wasn’t new to me. I’ve poked around into most of it before over the past few years. What was new, and I think too-often-overlooked, was the benefit of doing it in a group. We could all have sat at our desks and agreed to watch the videos before our next meeting, but being in the same room at the same time doing the same thing made the experience much more fruitful and educational for all of us.

The four of us all had different levels of familiarity with software, hardware, jargon, and trends. We clarified points for each other, repeated bits that somebody needed repeated, offered insights into our experiences with these technologies and riffed off each other as we went from video to video. The progress we made individually and as a team was much more than I think we would’ve made alone. And the ideas we came up with were exciting, too!

Making time to learn is an ever more important factor to sustaining a highly-productive, creative enterprise.


  1. Gail says:

    How do you get the 3D printout?

  2. Ed Rodley says:

    Hi Gail,

    There are now companies like Shapeways that offer on-demand 3D printing services. You upload a 3D file to them, select a material, order it, and wait for it to arrive.


Leave a Comment