Smart phones to be equipped with in-build 3D scanner with a chip

By | April 6, 2015

With the non-stop inventions and innovations in the field of 3D printing, it is evident soon everything we need can be printed out with 3D printer. The time is not very far behind. As a means of getting close to that era, U.S researchers have developed a camera chip that could make smart phone 3D scanner to scan everyday objects, a sought-after feature in world of 3D printing.


Scanned image of a US penny


California Institute of Technology engineers said the device is based on a cheap silicon chip less than 1 millimeter square and it can 3D scans it produce are of very high-resolution. With the discovery of the new NCI chip, devices like smart phone can add-in the technology, permitting one to take picture of any target objects anytime, anywhere. This chip would get rid of the need for a big bulky desktop devices.

Working mechanism:
The device works by passing perfectly aligning shining beams of light on a target object. It then detects subtle differences in the light that is hit back from the object. The reflections and differences help it create a digital 3D image of the target.  To show the light, the device uses an array of tiny LIDAR (light detection and ranging) laser beam scanners. LIDAR elements have been used for year for measuring distances in applications such as navigation for driverless cars and robots.

3D scanner on a phone

There is a small 4X4 grid of detectors that reads the reflected light off the object. The detectors act as pixels through which they measure the phase, frequency and intensity the incoming light and allot the distance as value to each pixel in the 3D image of the scanned object.

The scope of the 16-pixel array could be increased to hundreds of thousands to create larger, more powerful range of applications like preventing driverless cars to hit an obstacle.

Regular cameras have pixels that just represent the intensity of the light that is received from a certain point in the image. Such point could either be near or far from the camera. These pixels do not provide detailed data on the target object’s relative distance from the camera. There are lots of differences of using a normal camera and the 3D scanner camera.

Electrical engineering professor of Caltech Ali Hajimiri, “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,” said during release last week.