When it comes to handheld 3D scanners there is always one thing that stays somewhat in the shadows – the PC that the scanner is usually connected to and which allows the person doing the scan preview all the results in real-time. This makes the scanning a bit tricky, all 3D specialists would agree and requires some practice to balance between the two devices.

But that’s not the case for the scanner that I’m going to review today. 

Called Leo as “the king of the jungle”, this scanner doesn’t require an additional computer to connect to. It works wirelessly, comes with a built-in computer, touch screen, Wi-Fi, battery, and promises to make 3D scanning “as easy as taking a video”. Let’s check if it’s true.

Artec Leo was introduced to the market 3 years ago in spring 2017 by Artec 3D, developer and manufacturer of professional 3D hardware and software, based in Luxembourg. The company has been on the market since 2009 and has a strong portfolio of 3D scanning equipment for various applications and objects’ sizes. Leo was a new edition to the family that was completely different from what the company has been designing and producing before. Unlike its predecessors and other handheld scanners available on the market at that time, Leo was sort of a unicorn. How so?

◉ Built-In Computer, Touchscreen, and Battery

The first and most distinguishable difference of this scanner is that it has a built-in computer (NVIDIA Jetson™ TX1 processor) onboard that autonomously collects and processes data. It comes with quad-core ARM® Cortex®-A57 MPCore processor, NVIDIA Maxwell™ 1 TFLOPS GPU with 256 NVIDIA® CUDA® cores. All that powerful set allows processing humongous amounts of data as you may expect.

Unlike other handheld scanners such as Creaform Go!SCAN 3D or EinScan Pro 2X Plus or company’s renowned Eva scanner, the person doing the scan doesn’t need to carry a computer or tablet connected to the scanner in their other hand with wires and cables hanging around. Although many scanning professionals, including myself, got used to this set and can carry both devices with an ease of a pro juggler (or pro waiter? 😅), we know how inconvenient it can be, especially when you need to scan something located far remote. 

Scanning with a tethered handheld scanner VS. scanning with Artec Leo

But that’s apparently not the case for Leo. The scanner comes with a built-in battery (and an extra battery pack for cases when there is no power supply) and Wi-Fi making the scanning truly mobile. Thanks to a 5.5″ multi-touch HD screen, the user can see the object or scene being built in 3D in real-time and preview the results and see what areas are missing – all in one place. How cool is that? All that makes scanning way more convenient and comfortable for the user. 

For those of you who have been in the 3D pool for quite some time, this concept may not sound new. Some of the well-known tablet-mounted depth sensors such as Occipital’s Structure Sensor or Intel’s RealSense were designed with a similar goal in mind. And although they did a great job of making the scanning easier, more intuitive, and affordable for an average user, they obviously cannot compete with the quality of an industrial-grade scanner such as Artec Leo. 

Let’s take a closer look at the scanner and its specs.

◉ Design, Weight, and Size

I’m a design freak, so for me, the design of the device always comes first. And I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous to see what Artec team would come up with next. It’s like waiting for a new iPhone or Mac if you know what I mean. But there was nothing to worry about. The scanner exceeded all my expectations. 

If you take a look at Leo for the first time, you’ll probably notice some similarities with Pixar’s famous cartoon character – robot WALL-E (or was it just mine association?). All because Leo comes with these two ‘eyes’ aka professional-grade lens systems and VCSEL light technology that give the scanner this sort of Walle-like look. Behind those eyes is the proprietary 9 Degrees of Freedom inertial system consisting of an internal accelerometer, gyro, and compass that allow the scanner to precisely pinpoint its position within its surroundings. Very smart, Artec!

Me when I saw Leo for the first time 

Source: https://giphy.com/gifs/disneypixar-disney-pixar-12RmDbMsn7LoY0

As you can see from the pictures, the body of the scanner is made of very fine white and glossy plastic on the outside and back matt plastic surface on the inside of the handle which makes carrying it around very comfortable and safe. Because of the battery which is located at the bottom of the scanner, the overall weight is bigger compared to its tethered analogies – 2.6 kg / 5.7 lb. And that’s understandable. From what I heard, you need some time to adjust to the weight after the lighter scanners, but it all comes naturally over time. So I wouldn’t consider that as an issue, given the fact that all processing is done onboard and no extra computer is needed.

◉ Accuracy, Speed, and Resolution

“Okay-okay, but what kind of scan quality I can get with this goggle-eyed robot and how fast can I do it?” – you may ask. And I hasten to report that Artec exceeded my (and I suspect, not only mine) expectations here as well. 

The 1st thing that stroke me first is the scanner’s 80 frames per second 3D reconstruction rate! I mean, I’ve seen and tried lots of scanners, but let’s be honest, no one, literally no one could achieve such a high capture rate. And together with 0.1 mm point accuracy, 2.3 megapixels texture resolution, and 0.5 mm 3D resolution which the manufacturer claims, you can achieve quite impressive results. With no targets needed. Just take a look at this sofa. Impressive, right?

A quite large field of you (160K cm3) means you can capture both small, medium, and large objects and scenes while maintaining the same level of accuracy. The scanner supports zooming in and out of the object’s surface to capture more data if required.

What’s also interesting about this scanner is that it utilizes a combination of technologies that I haven’t seen other manufacturers use:

  • VCSEL 3D light source which according to the specs allows you to capture hard to scan textures (including skin), and works amazingly good even in bright light conditions, even outdoors, which is now is always a challenge for other light-based projection 3D scanners (such as structured or laser). 
  • Unparalleled texture-to-geometry mapping – Artec’s proprietary optical system where the 3D camera and color camera are combined and directed through the same lens to achieve the most advanced texture to geometry mapping.

◉ Processing Software

Leo’s screen during the scanning process

All the automatic onboard processing and on-screen magic happen thanks to preinstalled Leo software. Once the user finishes the scanning, theу can preview the data right on the screen. It’s important to note that the software can only do the processing in the so-called Real Time Fusion mode (one of the processing algorithms in the Artec Studio, the company’s core software suite). This means that you can preview the model built right on the screen, but the result will be less detailed than through usual post-processing that happens in Artec Studio software. 

So for further operations and touch-ups with the model, Leo software is integrated with the Artec Studio which comes with an advanced toolset for editing, complex processing, and analysis.

◉ Price

So what is the Artec Leo 3D scanner price you’re probably wondering? On the date this article is published (August 1, 2020), Artec Leo price is €24,970. You can check the price and connect with the Artec reseller in your area at https://www.artec3d.com/portable-3d-scanners/artec-leo. Maybe there’s even one Artec Leo for sale, who knows?

◉ Competitors

This review won’t be full if we don’t touch up on the competition. As I’ve said in the beginning, when Leo was introduced in 2017, it was one of a few wireless 3D scanners with a built-in touchscreen and onboard processing on the market. The only other company that was moving toward a similar direction that I’m aware of was Thord 3D, a Russian-based manufacturer, which also has wireless 3D scanners in its product line. The first one is called Drake, introduced in September 2016, a few months before Artec released its Leo 3D scanner, and the second one is called Calibri which was announced in early 2019. I haven’t tested those scanners myself and definitely need some education on those scanners, but let’s try to compare them with Leo based on information available on the web.

Like Leo, Drake was the company’s first wireless 3D scanner with onboard processing. But unlike Leo, the scanner was designed with swappable lenses with different fields of view to capture objects of very different sizes – from very small to large. The scanner has a bit bigger 7-inch touch screen, battery, and scanning software onboard and desktop software for final touches just like Artec’s Leo. As for the ergonomics and design, Drake’s experience is quite different from Leo’s. To be able to scan, you need to hold the scanner with two hands, like an iPad, much heavier iPad (2.3 kg). 

The other difference is that the scanner does need targets to get the best possible accuracy or when the object has a very poor geometry. This can be a downside if you need to scan the object fast, as putting up targets can take a while. On their website, Thor 3D does say that “Doing the job without markers frequently causes hand-held scanners to lose their orientation during the 3D scanning process. That means you have to start over. Scanning with markers prevents that from happening, making the process very easy and fast.” Well, that is true, but as we already learned, it doesn’t seem to be a problem for Leo. You can pause your scan at any point in time and just hit continue when ready without any problem. The scanner will pick up the tracking from where it started without any targets.

Let’s now compare the specification of both scanners:

Texture resolution1.3 mp2.3 mp
3D resolution0.15-0.6 mm0.5 mm
Accuracy0.04-0.15 mm0.1 mm
Data acquisition speed1.2 mln points/sec3 mln points / sec.
Frame rate, up to1244

As you can see Leo beats Drake when it comes both to speed and number of frames rate. I think you can go with Drake if you need to scan a certain type of objects (one size), but even though the time you need to spend on capturing those objects is spent on targets and just general longer time because of the quite limited 12 fps may not be worth the hurdle. 

As for the costs involved, Drake’s full set of 3 lenses aka heads is $28,800, and, in case you’re wondering, Drake doesn’t rap, unfortunately.

The other and quite new competitor for Leo is also made by Thor 3D and it’s their new Calibry scanner. Calibry was introduced to the market in early 2019, and if you’ve seen other Artec scanners, you will clearly see some similarities with its Eva scanner. Calibry, unlike Drake or Leo, is a super lightweight scanner that is only 900 grams. It comes with a 4-inches touchscreen and can capture objects from 20cm to 10m in length. As for the price, Calibry is just € 4990. 

Now, let’s take a look at the specs:

Texture resolution2.3 mp2.3 mp
3D resolution, up to0.6 mm0.5 mm
Accuracy, up to0.1 mm0.1 mm
Data acquisition speed3 mln points / sec.3 mln points / sec.
Frame rate, up to25-3044

Well, I’d say that it’d be interesting to see both Leo and Calibry in action on a sample object to see how both compare because, in terms of specs, the scanners are quite similar. Leo still beats Calibry in fps and no-targets scanning. And from my experience, Leo can capture far larger objects. From what I heard, Cailbry also doesn’t support the “pause and continue” workflow that many Leo users enjoy, meaning you can only do the scanning in one go which is not really convenient as you may miss some data. Also, the scanner supports only one tracking method at the time (either targets, texture, or geometry), which you must choose before scanning compared to Leo’s hybrid tracking. There are other downsides like slow calibration procedure, cheapy hardware quality feel. But still, it’d be interesting to see how both devices work on one object. Maybe it’ll be the topic of my next article?

And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this review. If you’d like to hear more about other handheld scanners, feel free to let me know in the comments.