Build Your Own 3D-Scanning Four-Axis Microscope with TwoBlueTech's Raspberry Pi-Powered LadyBug

Two discarded Blu-ray drives, a Raspberry Pi, and a USB microscope come together to create detailed images and models of teeny-tiny things.

TwoBlueTech's Ahron Wayne has published full instructions for building and using the LadyBug, a four-axis motorised microscope capable of creating 3D scans of extremely small objects — and it's built, in part at least, from discarded Blu-ray drives.

"LadyBug is a picture-based 3D scanner, meaning that it's primary function is to take photographs of an object from all sides, which can then be turned into a 3D model," Wayne explains of the project. "What's special about it is what it takes the pictures with, how it takes the pictures, and what it's made of. First, it uses a high-powered USB microscope, which is both cheap and effective — as long as you're just looking at a tiny part of the object. LadyBug solves this by using motors to do 3D scanning on top of 2D scanning!"

Designed in TinkerCAD, the LadyBug is built primarily from Blu-ray players salvaged from old Sony PlayStation 3 consoles and 3D printed components - the use of two Blu-ray drives being the origin of the name "TwoBlueTech." The camera system is a low-cost off-the-shelf USB microscope, driven by a Raspberry Pi — though Wayne indicates that an Arduino build is in the works.

While one use of the LadyBug is to focus-stack images to improve the quality of microscope captures, the ability to precisely move the microscope across four axes means it can take detailed 3D scans of very small objects — like insects. "It is capable of capturing detail of less than 10 microns," Wayne says. "3D scanners often advertise a resolution 50 times this!

"I started this project on a whim, and it snowballed into essentially half of my Master's degree," says Wayne, who is a student at Lawrence Technological University. "It's very common in academia to spend years building or discovering something and then have absolutely no one try replicate your work - that's why I'm publishing in Instructable format. I really hope that other, sorta normal people will see this project and say, 'Wow, that guy is crazy, but I know a couple of friends with old PS3s, and it would be cool to 3D scan and print a bug.' I would be thrilled to hear about some kid discovering a new insect.

"But I also understand that this project, as it stands, is a real commitment. HOO BOY. It was an insane amount of work to write about, let alone build it once, let alone design it from scratch. You have to source all the parts, and tune your printer, and the software is clunky, and omg, soldering the mini stepper motor is a paaaaain... And I'm working on that."

For those looking to build their own LadyBug, the project's Instructables page contains all the details required. More information is available on the project's GitHub repository, while Wayne has indicated a Kickstarter campaign for LadyBug kits is in the works with interested parties asked to sign up for more information on the TwoBlueTech website.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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