May 3, 2015 | By Simon

As we move into a future that features a prominent use of virtual and augmented reality systems, a large part of where that content creation will come from will be from 3D scanners not unlike Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox.

When the Kinect for Xbox was released in November of 2010, it was the most affordable 3D camera to date and completely transformed how users interacted with their video games.  Additionally, since Microsoft made their software available as open source for a generation of curious programmers and developers, its applications extended far beyond just video games and into the realm of full-body 3D scanning, motion tracking and many others.  After just 60 days on the market, Microsoft was able to sell 8 million of the Kinect units, making it the fastest-selling electronic device ever.    

However as much creative and gaming power that the Kinect provided, it was not without its limitations.  Among other setbacks, the Kinect had a difficult time working in outdoor conditions and wasn’t capable of producing high-resolution images.  

Now, a group of researchers from Northwestern University have taken everything that’s great about the Kinect and added even more power and functionality under support from the Office of Naval Research and the US Department of Energy.  

Headed by Oliver Cossairt, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, the project’s goal was to not only pick up where the Kinect fell short, but also produce a 3D scanning device that is also inexpensive like the Kinect.   

For both the first and second generation Kinect devices, a projected light pattern was utilized for the devices to be able to sense and process scene depth.  Although the technology works near-flawlessly, it lacks high resolution quality that some users have come to expect as resolution on other devices and gadgets has continued to go up - such as screen resolution on Apple’s Retina Display and 3D print qualities on various 3D printers.  The laser on Cossairt's camera, however, can be sensed in the presence of the sun because it is much brighter than ambient light.

“In order for a 3-D camera to be useful, it has to be something you can use in everyday, normal environments,” said Cossairt. “Outdoors is a part of that, and that’s something the Kinect cannot do, but our Motion Contrast 3-D scanner can.”

Cossairt’s camera, which he’s named Motion Contrast 3D Laser Scanner (MC3D), uses a similar process of single-point scanning like the original Kinect models, however it only scans portions of a scene that have changed, which ultimately makes the scanning process faster and be of higher quality.  The process can be compared to that of the human eye; neurons only fire if there is a change in the visual stimulus rather than constantly scanning every detail of a scene.

"If you send the same signal to your eye over and over, the neurons will actually stop firing," Cossairt said. "The neurons only fire if there is a change in your visual stimulus. We realized this principle could be really useful for a 3-D scanning system."

Surely, the speed and quality of the scanning technology makes it ideal for a variety of applications.  Among others, Cossairt believes that the Motion Contrast 3D Laser Scanner could be used in the fields of robotics, bioinformatics, augmented reality and manufacturing automation, among others.  

Recently, Cossairt and his team who worked on the project received a Google Faculty Research Award to integrate the technology behind the Motion Contrast 3D Laser Scanner into an autonomous vehicle platform.  



Posted in 3D Scanning


Maybe you also like:


marco wrote at 10/24/2015 10:30:03 PM:

MC3D scanner is on the market? What is the price? Nobody talks about the price

Mike Balzer, slo 3D creators wrote at 5/8/2015 8:26:17 AM:

I was hoping the results would be better, but I don't think they are fairly showing what laser scanning and the PrimeSense technology can accomplish. The Occipital Structure and my 4eyes lens system version 2 can capture surface detail as good as the Artec Eva at 1/10th the price. At the end of May, early June, there will be an enhanced iPad app and eagerly awaited iPhone 6 & 6+ app. that with the NEODiMOUNT cases makes this the smallest self-contained 3D Scanning system. It will be demoed at the MedXMake presentation next Thursday, and in the MedXMake MakerFaire booth Friday. Here is SketchFab link to recent model captured in 5 seconds with no processing:

codemite wrote at 5/4/2015 6:55:09 PM:

The ability to filter out the effect of external IR and light sources will be a very desirable trait. If it ever reaches market.

pittsburghjoe wrote at 5/3/2015 10:51:03 PM:

Are you comparing MC3D to Kinect v1 or 2?

Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive