Microsoft Research Project Allows for Inexpensive 3D Scanning from a Smartphone

August 27, 2015
By: Christopher Mohr

It is now possible to perform 3D scanning from a smartphone, without additional hardware or an Internet connection, thanks to a new Microsoft (News - Alert) Research project named MobileFusion. This may be yet another technology that was once only possible through specialized devices eventually becoming another built-in function of a smartphone.

There are several different ways to perform 3D scanning, but when you break it down into simpler terms, there are really only two significant ones.

One method relies on physical contact with the object being scanned. A device moves over the object while maintaining contact with it. As it passes through peaks and valleys in the object’s topography, it can detect these differences and produce a 3D image of the object.

The other method is optical. A device emits a light or laser beam on the object, sensors detect the reflection and determine distance, and this data is translated into a 3D image of the object. Obviously some form of this is what MobileFusion uses.

Image via Shutterstock

One of the challenges that optical scanning methods have is dealing with shiny or transparent objects. Transparent objects by definition don’t reflect light normally and shiny objects can create ‘noisy’ reflections that result in false range values.

The end result with the latter could be an image with additional peaks and protrusions added to the object. Two possible solutions to this are to put a non-reflective coating on the object or use a data cloud method proposed by Aalborg University researchers that surrounds the object with a cloud of data points and uses triangulation to determine exact distances.

Whether or not MobileFusion can deal with the complexities of shiny or transparent objects is not apparent, but it should be useful for simple scanning tasks. This has the potential to disrupt the 3D scanning device market.

A cursory look at what’s being sold shows a variety of devices ranging from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. Some of these devices are fixed, others are portable. MobileFusion would seem competitive with the low end of portable 3D scanners.

It almost seem inevitable at this point that what happens with 3D scanners will be the same thing that happened with digital cameras and GPS devices: these tasks will be performed by a smartphone, and specialty device sales will suffer as a result. 




Edited by Dominick Sorrentino