The concept of 3D printing may be old hat to most of us now, but how scientists and researchers are using the technology is still cropping up in some new and exciting ways. 3D-printed rocket engines have passed their first hot fire trials, while human skulls and even appendages are being successfully printed and implanted into human beings. While the latest 3D tech may not make it to space or serve to protect that big sexy brain of yours, it is nonetheless yet another step forward in making 3D technology as whole more accessible to the masses. Microsoft Research announced this week that they are working on an app for Android, iOS and Windows platforms that would allow users to capture 3D models using nothing more than their smartphone.
Microsoft is not the first company to explore this type of technology; in fact, Intel’s RealSense 3D camera already uses a similar model to provide facial recognition, and the Microsoft Kinect which was designed for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles has relied on similar methods for years now. What makes the MobileFusion app different is that it wouldn’t require a dedicated scanner or clunky add-on to perform the image scanning; it could be done with nothing more than your smartphone’s rear camera. To scan the object of interest, walk around it with your phone’s camera pointed at the object like you’re taking a 360-degree video of the item. The software then scans objects by comparing image frames from your phone’s camera and builds up a model as the camera captures the object from various angles. These stereo depth maps are then merged into a single 3-D mesh model and captured on your smartphone in a matter of just a few seconds, and can be printed from a 3D printer immediately after.
For those of you who don’t have access to a 3D printer, this app could still be of use or interest to you. Microsoft Research principal researcher Shahram Izadi suggested that the app could also be used to enhance a simple vacation shot, citing the Eiffel Tower as an example of a landmark that could benefit from the technology. By using the MobileFusion app to capture the landmark, you could scan and create a 3D image of the Tower and immediately share your adventure with friends and family in a more detailed and immersive way than was previously available to you. And since no internet connection is required to use the app, you are fee to render literally any image at any time into a 3D capture (although the full-circle scanning process makes it ideal mainly for stationary objects). The MobileFusion app is currently still undergoing testing on a wide range of smartphones, but Microsoft hopes to eventually make the app available to the general public once it successfully supports more platforms.
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