My 3-D Printed Self Is Creepily Accurate And Cheaper Than Therapy


20.08.15 |  Forbes | AUTHOR: BRUCE UPBIN

There’s a six-inch statue of me staring at me while I write this. The mini-me was 3-D printed from a photograph taken a month ago and it captures in solid form everything my body was putting out there on that rainy Wednesday morning in Soho. I was running late and had a ton of meetings to deal with later. I grabbed my bag with my laptop in it, got into the photo booth thinking, ‘let’s get this done’ with a minimally viable smile.

Now I know what my let’s-take-the-photo-already pose looks like from all directions–the bend in my knee, how my collar sits against the nape of my neck, the cut of pants against my rear (not half bad). The printer used to produce the statue is state-of-the-art: Full color, accurate down to the ten o’clock shadow, redness around my neck from that surgical scar, even the tiny black label on the side of the backpack at my feet.  For only three hundred plus shipping and handling, the self-reflection of having a Doob, as these figurines are called, is cheaper than weeks of psychotherapy. And if social media interest is correlated with commercial success, Doobs are going to be a big deal. Friends went nuts when I shared a picture of my Doob on social. “Voodoo?” they said. “It’s your Ken doll!” my wife said. Another asked, “Does it have Kung Fu grip?”

Doob is the name of the product and the startup that’s opening stores in a growing number of cities around the country. For $100 and up, depending on the size, you can dooblicate your family, your pets or a trio of good friends. (Yes, people have done nude doobs but it’s frowned upon.) While fun as conversation pieces, wedding (and break up) gifts, or totems to narcissism, the physical Doobs are really only an intermediate product. The real play for the company is the digital object: Once you’ve been photographed in 3-D, your avatar can be used in all sorts of applications: trying on clothes or glasses, weight loss programs, interior decorating, travel, video games and greeting cards. Doob’s U.S. chief Michael Anderson says: “The impact of the the digital avatar is really what we are looking at down the road.” The stores and statues are merely to get people familiar with the idea.

Some 10,000 people in the last six months alone have been scanned and printed in the U.S. and Japan. Here’s how it works: You enter a small octagonal room with 50 to 60 Canon EOS digital cameras facing you from every direction. When you pose, the cameras go off simultaneously. You can jump or twirl or fling your hair around and it will capture the strands in motion and the flounce of a skirt in motion. The digital files from each camera go into Doob’s processing software and, in a technique known as photogrammetry, they’re stitched together into a single three-dimensional file that gets sent to a 3-D printer. Doob uses a high-end printer that builds a statuette horizontally from the bottom up out of powder. The outer layer of powder holds the color and keeps the model firm once it’s dipped in a solution.

The technology behind Doob was invented four years ago in Dusseldorf, Germany by a team of software experts, including former SAP engineer Vladimir Puhalac, who wrote the algorithms to manipulate dozens of images into a 3-D model. His team was trying to come up with a method for 3-D printing custom facial implants for stroke victims by modeling their faces into digital form. Hollywood computer graphics shops have been doing highly accurate photogrammetry for several years, but they charge tens of thousands of dollars. The Doob team wanted to prove they could do it at a fraction of the cost.

The group took an undisclosed amount of funding and in mid-2013 opened a retail location in Dusseldorf to scan people and get more attention for the technology. The European group has public locations in Berlin and Paris, but is more keen on pursuing commercial business such as medical products and devices. The independently run U.S. operation is more actively pursuing consumer markets, first with the statuettes and eventually with retailers and consumer goods manufacturer interested in the idea of “mass customizing’ their products down to the individual human form. You will be your own mannequin, and everything will fit perfectly.

The first U.S. Doob store was a temporary pop-up last October inside Uniqlo’s flagship Fifth Avenue emporium in Manhattan. A test run at Chelsea Market proved there was enough demand to open a more permanent location in Soho. Others opened this year in San Francisco, Los Angeles and in Japan. Another is opening shortly at the Valley Fair mall in San Jose, Calif. Other startups competing with Doob include TwinKind of Germany and Captured Dimensions, just north of Dallas, Tex. Both operations are smaller than Doob and have yet to expand to multiple locations.

Doob signed a deal recently with Major League Baseball to set up photo booths at ballparks around the U.S., starting with Tiger Stadium this summer. “It’s for fans initially, but eventually we can put fans alongside players who have been scanned,” says Anderson, though he admits not many ballplayers have stepped into the booth yet. Licensing deals with Universal Studios allows them park visitors to “dooblicate” themselves into spaceships from the Evangelion apocalyptic anime series, and soon alongside Sesame Street characters. You and Big Bird, together forever.