Occipital Debuts 3D Scanner for iPads, Raises $100K on Kickstarter

Occipital, a Boulder-based startup that specializes in computer vision and augmented reality, has been quiet recently, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been busy.

The company announced Tuesday it has created its first piece of hardware, a 3-D infrared scanner called Structure Sensor that attaches to mobile devices. Occipital also launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to move from the prototype stage to production and to build an audience. The company hit its $100,000 goal within three-and-a-half hours.

Occipital, which also has an office in San Francisco, is probably best known for creating the RedLaser barcode scanner/QR reader (which it sold to eBay) and an app that lets users take and share 360-degree panoramic pictures.

“Over the past 1.5 years we’ve secretly morphed into a consumer electronics company in order to build the Structure Sensor,” Occipital co-founder Vikas Reddy wrote in an e-mail. “With the Structure Sensor attached to your mobile device you can walk around the world and instantly capture it in a digital form.”

While the Occipital became a successful app developer, its ambitions always were larger.

“We’ve always wanted to make a huge impact in computer vision, and building this hardware lets us push forward faster and impact the rate at which the incredible technology from computer vision makes its way into everyday applications,” cofounder and CEO Jeff Powers said.

Powers said Occipital’s apps “were pushing the limits of what we could do with built-in hardware on mobile devices,” which led to the development of Structure Sensor. Other startups such as Matterport are working on commercial infrared scanners that use Kinect-style technology to scan interior spaces and produce 3D visualizations. But Occipital is one of the first companies to try to squeeze the technology into mobile-compatible form.

Reddy said Occipital envisions several use cases for the sensor.

“This means you can capture 3D maps of indoor spaces and have every measurement in your pocket. You can instantly capture 3D models of objects and people for import into CAD and for 3D printing. You can play mind blowing augmented-reality games where the real world is your game world,” he wrote.

More about the sensor and Occipital’s Kickstarter campaign can be found in this AllThingsD article and on TechCrunch. The company had set a Nov. 1 goal for the campaign. The sensor won’t be available for consumers until mid-2014, but it will be available sooner for developers.

Occipital faces some competition from companies like Intel, and the underlying infrared-scanning technology, made by companies like PrimeSense, is getting smaller and cheaper. (In fact, some observers speculate that infrared-based 3D scanning capabilities might be baked into new smartphone models within a couple of years.) So Occipital’s debut on the market might not be so easy.

Occipital is a Techstars alum, and it raised $7 million in a 2011 Series A round. The Boulder-based Foundry Group led the round and was joined by Palo Alto, CA-based K9 Ventures.

The startup has scored some noteworthy successes in its short history. The company released RedLaser in 2009. The app originally ran afoul of Apple’s restrictions for the App Store, an episode that Reddy wrote about in a Newsweek article. Apple would eventually feature RedLaser in an iPhone commercial, and the app was downloaded millions of times.

EBay bought RedLaser from Occipital in 2010 for an undisclosed price. The deal helped earn Reddy and Jeffrey Powers spots on Inc. Magazine’s 30-under-30 list.

Those accolades came after a couple years of “running on fumes” after they left Techstars. Reddy and Powers have said that RedLaser was a last-ditch attempt to develop something that could generate revenue and keep the company going.

Not only did it ensure Occipital’s survival, it allowed Powers and Reddy to focus on its true interest: computer vision, especially the combination of augmented reality with mobile devices.

That led Occipital to create 360 Panorama, an app that let users create and share immersive panoramas. A key feature is the ability to zoom, pan, and tilt the images. Occipital will continue to develop 360 Panorama, Powers said.

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