Dec 23, 2015 | By Alec

While 3D scanning technology has vastly improved over the last few years, its pace of development and the speed at which it is reaching consumers can hardly be compared to the successes of 3D printing. While several initiatives are already underway to develop affordable handheld scanners, the solution might have been in your possession all along. For a team of researchers from Brown University have just announced the development of a 3D scanning algorithm that should bring high quality 3D scanning to smartphones and even to off-the-shelf digital cameras.

This potentially groundbreaking innovation has come out of the lab of professor Gabriel Taubin, of the University’s School of Engineering, who says he has been focusing on bringing 3D image capturing down in price as much as possible. "One of the things my lab has been focusing on is getting 3-D image capture from relatively low-cost components," Taubin says. "The 3D scanners on the market today are either very expensive, or are unable to do high-resolution image capture, so they can't be used for applications where details are important."

The problem with existing 3D scanning techniques is that it relies on an expensive image capturing mechanism called structured light – in which series of light patterns are cast on an object, which is captured on camera. The way those patterns deform denote the specific form of the object, and all those images are stitched together to form a single 3D rendering. To do all this, the hardware (specifically the pattern projector and the camera) needs to be perfectly synchronized and therefore top of the line.

While most upcoming 3D scanners simply seek to make that process more affordable, Taubin and his student team have instead developed an algorithm that does away with the synchronization stage altogether – meaning that an off-the-shelf camera is all you need to capture the light flashes. Theoretically, any camera with the ability to capture uncompressed images in burst mode (meaning a number of successive frames per second) can be used – something most digital cameras and even top range smartphones are able to.

This fascinating algorithm was described in a paper presented at the SIGGRAPH Asia computer graphics conference last month. As the Brown team explains, synchronization is the most logical technique, as it ensures that images are not mixtures of different patterns. Regular digital cameras are also never used because most use a rolling shutter mechanism that doesn’t focus on the complete field of vision instantly, but instead captures parts pixel by pixel – something that could mean that the left side isn’t fully up to date with the right when capturing projected light.

As graduate student Daniel Moreno explains, that is the main problem they have been dealing with. "We can't use an image that has a mixture of patterns. So with the algorithm, we can synthesize images--one for every pattern projected--as if we had a system in which the pattern and image capture were synchronized,” he says. With their algorithm, they can calibrate the timing of image sequencing using the binary information from the projected pattern. This is then used to assemble a new image, that does indeed capture each image in its entirety. Afterwards, the stitching process is essentially similar. According to their tests, the accuracy is the same as that of existing 3D scanners, meaning that hardware costs could go down significantly in the near future.

In fact, they believe they could bring 3D scanning possibilities to the smartphones in our pockets, as soon as the light flashing hardware shrinks to the size of a camera attachment. “We think this could be a significant step in making precise and accurate 3-D scanning cheaper and more accessible,” Taubin said.



Posted in 3D Scanning



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scanning guy wrote at 12/24/2015 1:21:15 AM:

So... their new algorithm does exactly what every other Greybar structured light scanner does.. except with more cameras. The article title should read "New algorithm could turn your smartphone camera into a 3D scanner.. if you want to strap a DLP projector to your smartphone ... and keep it totally still for at least 5 seconds...."

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