3-D Scanning: I Can Picture a Future for Data Journalism

I spent a little too much time this week trying to 3-D scan everyday objects (in my case, children’s toys) using the 123D Catch app. Using the app wasn’t the problem; waiting for the models to be generated was. Turns out the servers were backed up with lots of requests for models, leading to wait times of several days to generate models. My model of a toy airplane did finally come through, and it looks great, but the experience overall shows me how far the technology needs to come to be truly accessible.

The implications for this capability, however, are intriguing. One of my previous classes in this program sparked an interest in data journalism. Data is a powerful tool in reporting, and strong data visualizations can help tell a story and bring in viewers who would normally bypass a print article. As I learn about 3-D scanning and reality capture, I think it’s basically inevitable that these technologies will find their way to data journalism, where they can help recreate scenes and make interactive graphics realistic and compelling.

With coverage of the Olympics everywhere, I found this article from DigiDay about The Guardian’s data visualization team and how they are covering the Olympics. Each day, the team is creating a standalone visualization of one of the key events, using stats on technique, performance, and comparisons with past Olympians. I think it’s a fascinating use of data, and I can picture how it would be enhanced with 3-D models of the athletes completing these events or an interactive 3-D scene where viewers could experience the life of an Olympic athlete.

As this technology develops, I think it will be instrumental in innovating the field of data journalism and injecting an air of realism in what were previously static or computer-generated visualizations.

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