Jan 13, 2016 | By Tess

Recently, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, otherwise known as ETH Zurich, have been developing a software that will allow people to easily generate 3D maps of entire buildings from a mobile tablet.

The project, which is being conducted by a team of computer scientists led by professor Marc Pollefeys, is in association with Google’s Project Tango, which has been collaborating with various universities and companies worldwide in order to expand its research and development of mobile 3D technology.

Essentially, the software being developed at ETH Zurich will be able to, using only the rear facing camera on a tablet, generate a 3D model or map of a building’s exterior by simply having someone hold the tablet and walk around the building’s perimeter. I should note that the software is being designed to be used with the latest version of Google’s Project Tango mobile device, which is not readily available to the public just yet.

As Thomas Schöps, a ETH doctoral student who is working on the project, says, “These tablets are still in the development phase and are not intended for end users, but they have been available for purchase by interested software developers for a few months now, also in Switzerland. The first apps for them have already been developed; however, at the present moment the device is out of stock.”

Despite the fact that the software and the device it will run on are still in development, the research and work done at ETH Zurich is very promising. Excitingly, the 3D mapping software will be able to do much more than its 3D mapping predecessors, in that it will be able to not only detect basic architectural features such as door openings and windows, but will be able to discern and account for details such as brick arrangements on the building’s façade.

Additionally, the software being developed by Pollefeys and his team can operate in sunlight, which poses a great advantage over other 3D mapping technologies, which often necessitate darkness. As Torsten Sattler, another postdoc at ETH explains, “Other systems work using a measuring grid of infra-red light…This technique works well indoors.. Outdoors, our method has clear advantages. Conversely, infra-red technology is better suited to indoor use in room whose structures are less pronounced, such as rooms with uniform, empty walls.”

The method that Pollefeys and his team have based their work on for the 3D mapping software is entirely optical. That is, “It is based on comparing multiple images, which are taken on the tablet by a camera with a fisheye lens, and uses the principle of triangulation in a manner similar to that applied in geodetic surveying.” The software essentially generates the 3D model of the object by analysing and understanding the distances from various elements of the object in relation to the device itself.

The team at ETH also worked successfully to create a 3D scanner for smartphones a couple years ago, but their current undertaking is quite exceptional as it will allow for entire buildings to be mapped out, a much bigger scale than what they were previously working with. “In the future, this could probably even be used to survey entire districts,” says Sattler.

The high processing power of the Project Tango tablet has allowed for the ETH researchers to  design a software that can accurately map out 3D models of whole building exteriors thanks to real-time feedback and in tablet calculations. This move forward in mobile 3D technology could have big ramifications for augmented reality technology, as one could imagine walking down the street in a city being toured around by the tablet in their hand, finding out about the buildings and spaces they pass through 3D mapping capabilities. Other applications for the technology could include virtual-reality computer games, 3D modeling buildings, 3D mapping archaeological sights, and even for use in self parking cars.

As mentioned, the software being developed by Pollefeys team at ETH Zurich is a part of Google’s Project Tango, which recently announced it will be soon releasing a consumer smartphone capable of 3D scanning and 3D image capture in partnership with PC manufacturer Lenovo. Because the ETH software is now part of Google’s software database, the researchers who have been developing are not sure of its future release or accessibility. Sattler explains, “Of course, we hope that Google will make our technology available to end users and include it as standard in the next version of the Tango tablet. Obviously, our dream is that some day every mobile device will include this function, allowing the development of apps that utilise it.”

Whether the 3D mapping software will be included in Project Tango’s next smartphone remains to be seen, but we are sure it will be a big hit when it is released, providing people with a whole new way of seeing urban structures and spaces.



Posted in 3D Scanning



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Chris D wrote at 1/22/2016 1:37:26 PM:

Surely there must be better examples of use for Tango.. these results are not very impressive.. in fact for this application it looks far worse than just using photogrammetry / SfM software (the 'business version of 123DCatch) to create 3D from regular or spherical photos.

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