Oulun yliopisto on rakentanut 3D-skannerin, jolla voi mallintaa ihmisiä, eläimiä ja esineitä. University of Oulu has built a 3D scanner which can be used to model humans, animals and objects.

3D scanning of people and other animals at the University of Oulu

What is 3D modelling and scanning like? Why are there birds from the zoological museum in the 3D scanner? And what do fifth-graders have to do with all this?

What do a fifth-grader and a stuffed bittern have in common? Both can be 3D-modelled using the 3D scanner at the Center for Ubiquitous Computing. Laboratory technician Pentti Frederiksen built the 3D scanner for the university last spring.

“I made my first scanner for the Tietomaa Science Centre as part of my final project in vocational training, and the University of Oulu got interested and ordered a similar one. It took me about three months to put it together,” Frederiksen says.

Among other things, the scanner consists of LEDs, control units, switches and an efficient computer. The 3D scanner captures 144 images simultaneously, combines them and turns them into a 3D model using modelling software. Processing one model from images into a three-dimensional model takes about 20 minutes.

Laboratorioteknikko Pentti Frederiksenillä on jonossa kahden viikon edestä työstöä odottavia kuvia.

Laboratory technician Pentti Frederiksen has two weeks’ worth of images lined up waiting for processing.

A shoveler in the 3D scanner

In addition to birds from the zoological museum, items that have been scanned recently include a car engine and a bunch of people. There have been plans to create a virtual zoological museum in the visitor centre to be built in connection with the botanical garden, and the birds would be displayed there. Visitors could put on VR headsets and see 3D models of a shoveler, osprey and other bird species. A database could be combined with the virtual version to provide more information on each subject.

According to Pentti Frederiksen, there are no differences in the process regardless of whether you are scanning objects, birds or people.

“Black, white and combinations of black and red are difficult colours to scan, and shiny surfaces are also tricky,” he says, describing the challenges.

The goal is to make the scanner easy to dismantle and reassemble, so that it could be moved without too much trouble. The current 3D scanner stays put in the Tietotalo building. At the moment, scanning and modelling are limited by the size of the items; the limits are set by the physical dimensions of the equipment.

“Things larger than people can be scanned separately using a handheld device.”

”Menet seisomaan laitteeseen, laitat silmät kiinni, avaat ne, ja tulee tosi kirkas valo. Sitten on parin sekunnin päästä valmista”, kertoi Solja skannauskokemuksestaan.

“You go and stand inside the equipment, close your eyes and open them, and there’s a really bright light. After a few seconds, you are done,” Solja said when asked about her scanning experience.

A virtual model feels real

Virtual reality and VR headsets are popular among visiting school groups. Many hands go up when doctoral student Paula Alavesa asks whose turn is next.

The virtual adventure is controlled using joystick-type controllers. After putting on VR headsets, schoolchildren can move around the centre of Oulu and the city library, for instance. In the virtual demos, you can also grab things and change the time of day. During their visit, pupils from Teuvo Pakkala School got to throw virtual coffee cups all over the street, laser-cut key rings and scan 3D models of themselves.

“It was fun, but I was dazzled by the lights inside. I have previously used a 3D printer with my dad. We made a human figure and printed it. My dad is an architect, and I got to look at virtual homes at his workplace using a VR headset. 3D modelling is different here at the university from what it’s like at home,” Solja says.

The fifth-graders have almost completed their multidisciplinary learning module on humans. The visit to the Fab Lab and 3D scanner combines technology with the human theme.

“The children didn’t really know what to expect – we came here with open minds. This acts as a good counterbalance to the biology-based information they have previously learned. We get to know about things that people are currently developing,” teacher Jaana Koskela says.

“Aluksi oli vähän jännittävää. Olen pelannut aiemmin pelejä, joissa käytetään VR-laseja. Tuntui todelta”, Aada kertoo. Paula Alavesa neuvoo.

“It was a bit exciting at first. I’ve previously played games using a VR headset. It felt real,” Aada says. Paula Alavesa gives her advice.

Developing a virtual campus

“Our research team has been preparing a 3D model of the Linnanmaa campus with the plan of building a virtual campus. Pretty soon, people might be able to scan themselves into the campus, and online teaching could be almost like the real thing,” says Alavesa, describing her vision.

“We started the modelling work two or three years ago. Our earlier demos featured empty and uninviting spaces. Nowadays, we try to add recognisable characters.”

The Ubiquitous Computing research team studies observation and presence in VR spaces as well as VR nausea. In addition to the university, you can also go to the city library to test the new technology and take part in the study.

According to Alavesa, VR headsets are easy to use and comfortable. In every group of schoolchildren, there are usually a few who have tried wearing them before. Word has got around among teachers, and pupils want to come and try out the equipment.

“People’s interest in the subject increases my own motivation. It’s important to approach children at an early stage and arouse their interest in science,” Alavesa says.


3D demos created by the University of Oulu Center for Ubiquitous Computing can be viewed in the Sketchfab gallery.

The unit also engages in collaboration within the university, and the models and scanner can be utilised across research team and faculty boundaries.


Text: Heidi Niemi

Photos: Juha Sarkkinen

Last updated: 23.11.2018