The Coolest App At SXSW—Arqball Spin

I just spent five days in Austin at the SXSW Interactive Festival. There were no breakout social apps that took over the conference as in years past (like Twitter, Foursquare, or GroupMe), but there was one app that got almost zero buzz that blew me away. It has nothing to do with proximity-based social networks, photo-sharing, or finding a pedicab to the next SXSW marketing party. No, this is an app that can take real-world objects and turn them into photo-realistic 3D models.

The app is called Arqball Spin (iTunes link), and you can see it in action in the video above. Co-founder Jason Lawrence took my watch, placed it on a platter, then captured the rotating image on his iPhone using the app. In the time it took him to explain the technology—about a minute—he had a full 3D model of my watch that you can pinch, zoom, and rotate. (Check out the 3D model of my watch here, and this one of a spinning egglpant).

Arqball uses “computational photography” to create a 3D model of the rotating object placed on the platter, and then stitches images from different angles on top of it. The result is a digital object that looks real and even catches the light the same way my watch did on that platter. Game developers and animation studios create 3D objects like this all the time, but they don’t do it using their iPhones. That is why this is truly disruptive. It brings 3D modeling to the masses. You don’t need bulky 3D scanners or expensive desktop software, all the rendering happens in the cloud after the data is compressed to a 1MB file, and what you end up with is a 3D artifact called a “spin.”

The first application for Arqball Spin isn’t even for gaming or animation. It’s for commerce. Imagine every Etsy and eBay seller showing off their goods in 3D. The virtual item can be embedded on any site via an Arqball player. And it’s all HTML5—no Flash (so it works in iPad and iPhone browsers). This could be especially useful for luxury and highly-crafted items where the design is a key selling point. The drawback to online shopping is not being able to see or touch the product you are buying. Immersive technologies such as Arqball’s could help bridge that gap by giving people the opportunity to digitally manipulate and play with products before they buy.

I can see this becoming very appealing to high-end online retailers like Gilt who already spend a lot of time and money on lovingly photographing every luxury product on sale. Arqball’s platter, which it expects to sell for around $100, can only accommodate small objects not much larger than an Apple right now. But a professional photographer or retailer could build a bigger platter for larger objects. The technology works the same no matter the size of the object, as long as it rotates at a certain RPM.

Targeting online commerce is an obvious market entry strategy, but the app can be used by anybody. Lawrence sees it as a way to unleash “user-generated 3D content.” It seems like an obvious addition to any Maker’s tool belt. Over time, Arqball’s database of 3D objects could become increasingly valuable.

Lawrence and his co-founder Abhi Shelat are computer science professors from the University of Virginia. The company is completely bootstrapped and is based on technology they developed themselves. The app is free, and you get 5 “spins” that you can share. In the next few days, Arqball will introduced tiered pricing plans for users who want to share more spins.

29 thoughts on “The Coolest App At SXSW—Arqball Spin

  1. It’s basically a video recording playing forward and backwards. Pfft…Intellectual property, sure.

  2. This is very cool Erik. Especially since I’m on the board of a 3d animation company. downloading now. What’s up. Gary and i have wanted to connect.

  3. Arqball Spin doesn’t let you pull out a 3D mesh, it’s more like an interactive 3D video. You can grab the app for free online and test it out with some pre-captured objects.

  4. This is very very very cool

    btw I haven’t seen much of a postmortem from sxsw, does this mean that the highrise app everybody was talking about didn’t really take off and win best of show?

  5. You cannot seriously be calling that 3d Model. Its literally a video of a spinning object that you can rotate. No 3D space is being mapped! $80-$100 for a plastic spinning platter.

    • We are capturing something called a light field which is a fairly well understood image-based representation of a 3d object. Read more here:

      Click to access light-lores-corrected.pdf

      The 3d space we are mapping is that of the camera as it travels around the object. This representation can be directly viewed as is done in our current system or manipulated (eg. edited, inserted in other virtual environments, etc.) in ways that require an estimate of the surface geometry. Those types of operations are not currently supported but are on the way.

      The differences between these various reps are subtle but important. Arqball Spin gives users the ability to manipulate an object in a way they typically associate with 3d. This is something that had not been previously possible at this price point and with a single integrated system before.

      • This is really just wordplay. Their ‘light field’ is a ‘picture’. And yes, any picture I take of an object is an image-based representation of a 3d object, but its a 2D representation of that 3d object.

        I typically associate manipulating an object in 3d as being able to rotated it in any direction, including up and down, not just side to side.

        It is indeed a very expensive plastic spinning platter. I’m concerned that Kickstarter would allow a project on whose title is very deceptive. Anyone that knows anything about 3d can quickly see that it’s NOT 3d.

  6. Very cool. I can see not only Etsy/eBay/Craigslist folks getting excited about showcasing goods for sale, but also enterprise marketers interested in increasing purchase intent, particularly if it were possible to get metrics on engagement (number of spins, touch points, etc.) which would be easy to capture. Educational opportunities seem vast as well for one-of-a-kind objects, archaeology, museums. Wow, well done!

  7. This is a looping Quicktime movie. If the app were really capturing the 3D object, you would be able to move it in any direction. That said, I do see a market for this type of tool. I’d change the title of this article – its very misleading…

  8. Pingback: What was trending at SXSW 2012? | Conduit Blog

  9. Can I simply just say what a relief to uncover an individual who truly understands what they’re discussing on the net. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More and more people should look at this and understand this side of the story. I can’t believe you are not more popular because you certainly possess the gift.

  10. Certainly, if they develop the ability for users to pull .OBJ’s out of footage taken with the app, it’s going to get very interesting very quickly – but at the minute it is hard for lay persons like myself to see any magical processes the app is delivering which a standard 2d video wouldn’t also achieve. All the best with the development of it.

  11. Pingback: Download Arqball Spin and enjoy it on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

  12. You do not have to promote this membership as a business opportunity if you do
    not want to. Go – To – Webinar comes with Go – To – Meeting, for
    smaller, more collaborative online meetings.
    An additional 80,900 feet is available and 36,100 feet has been ordered.

Comments are closed.