Camera chip could turn phones into 3D scanners

Scaling up the Caltech device could make it useful for applications such as driverless cars

This 3D scan of a U.S. penny was created with a tiny camera chip developed at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

This 3D scan of a U.S. penny was created with a tiny camera chip developed at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

U.S. researchers have developed a camera chip that could give smartphones the ability to take 3D scans of everyday objects, a sought-after feature in the 3D-printing world.

Engineers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) said their device is based on a cheap silicon chip less than 1 millimeter square and it can produce 3D scans with extremely fine resolution.

The chips could be incorporated into phones and the data could be sent to 3D printers to duplicate scanned objects, eliminating the need to use large desktop devices.

The device works by shining beams of light, which are perfectly aligned, on a targeted object. It then detects subtle differences in the light that is reflected back from that object. The differences help it build a digital 3D image of the target.

To shine the light, the device uses an array of tiny LIDAR (light detection and ranging) laser beam scanners. Useful for measuring distance, LIDAR elements have been used for years in applications such as navigation for driverless cars and robots.

The light that is reflected off the object is picked up by a small 4 x 4 grid of detectors, as the researchers describe in a study published in the journal Optics Express..

The detectors act like pixels in that they measure the phase, frequency and intensity of the incoming light and assign a distance value to each pixel in the 3D image of the object that has been scanned.

The researchers used the proof of concept camera chip to create a 3D scan of a U.S. penny from half a meter away. The scan features micron-level resolution as well as the larger undulations on the penny's surface that are nearly invisible to the naked eye.

The 16-pixel array could be increased to hundreds of thousands to create larger, more powerful arrays for applications such as helping driverless cars avoid obstacles, according to Caltech.

"The small size and high quality of this new chip-based imager will result in significant cost reductions, which will enable thousands of new uses for such systems by incorporating them into personal devices such as smartphones," Caltech electrical engineering professor Ali Hajimiri said in a release last week.

Tim Hornyak covers Japan and emerging technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Tim on Twitter at @robotopia.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Internet-based applications and servicesconsumer electronicssmartphonesCaltechinternetdigital cameras

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tim Hornyak

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?