I'm always looking for impressive free apps to show what the iPad can accomplish, and I've done that this week with 123D Catch from AutoDesk.
This iPad app (iPad 2 and new iPad only) allows you to use the iPad camera to photograph any object from a number of angles and elevations. Then the app sends your images up to an AutoDesk server where the object is rendered as a 3D file. You can even create 3D files for large objects, like a building, by moving parallel to it to allow the rendering to display the changing perspectives. Even people can be rendered in 3D if they don't move during the imaging sequence. It's all covered in the included help files and videos.
This is pretty amazing on any computer, and even more impressive on a tablet. Once you get the image back, you can rotate it in 360 degrees, zoom in or out, and even change elevation if you provided the appropriate images for the rendering. You can submit up to 40 images. Rendering can take a bit of time. Some complex objects took about 20 minutes but the app will send an alert when your file is ready.
The resulting 3D object can be shared with other AutoDesk users, or viewed on a Mac or PC with a free viewer. Just trying it out on some household objects worked very well. The renderings were complete and in sharp focus. It's pretty amazing to do this on an iPad and it is a good demo if you don't mind waiting for the rendering to finish.
AutoDesk also offers an app we've previously reviewed called 123D Sculpt. It allows you to create a virtual 3D sculpture on your iPad. I consider these free apps sort of a gateway drug to get people interested in the amazing capabilities of the AutoDesk family of products. AutoDesk even sells some of its industrial strength products through the Mac app store.
Give this free iPad app a try and prepare to be impressed.