My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: @Caltech's Portable 3D Scanning Device using LIDAR gives a boost to 3D Printing revolution

Monday, April 6, 2015

@Caltech's Portable 3D Scanning Device using LIDAR gives a boost to 3D Printing revolution

“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,”

Professor Ali Hajimiri of Caltech electrical engineering commenting on their publication in the journal Optics Express of their developement of a 3D scanning attachment for a smartphone

Graphic artiste at the Edna Manley School of the Visual and Performing arts in Jamaica, 3D Scanning may be coming to a smartphone near you.

Engineers at CalTech (California Institute of Technology) have developed a portable 3D scanning device based on a DSP (Digital Signal Processing) Chip that can be incorporated into current smartphone cameras to create 3D Images as reported in the article “New camera chip could turn phones into 3D scanners”, published Apr 6, 2015 5:17 AM by Tim Hornyak, PC World.

The 1mm square processor is augmented with a miniaturized LIDAR (light detection and ranging) laser beam scanner. However, it doesn’t use the Smartphone’s camera as a detector but rather a small 4 x 4 grid of detectors being as this is a POC (Proof of Concept) idea. 

Details of their work were published in the Journal Optics Express as was also published on Caltech’s Website in their article “New Camera Chip Provides Superfine 3-D Resolution”, published 04/03/2015, Caltech.

So how does this portable 3D scanning device work? And why is a portable 3D Scanner such a big deal?

CalTech's portable 3D Scanning Device - How portable 3D Scanning using LIDAR works

The laser light from the LIDAR is used to illuminate the object up to 500 cm away and the backscatter reflection is picked up by this special array of 4 x 4 grid of detectors. That’s sixteen pixels with each pixel being a complete LIDAR detector as noted in the article “This new camera sensor could turn your phone into a 3D scanner”, published April 5, 2015 10:45 am By Dante D'Orazio, The Verge.

It thus works in a manner similar to the Consumer Physics US$199 SCiO Portable IR Spectrometer that uses IR to determine the chemical composition of anything it scans as explained in my blog article entitled “Consumer Physics US$199 SCiO Portable IR Spectrometer – Star Trek Tricorder that can scan the Molecular World”.

DSP software then goes to work, analyzing the backscatter light and analyzing the phase, frequency and intensity. It then assigns a precise distance value in a manner similar to how a laser tape measure works, but with millimeter accuracy. This can be seen from the scan of a US Penny as shown below

To that end, it has more in common with the US$99 PocketScan which was a Kickstarter to developed a portable Document Scanner as explained in my blog article entitled “The PocketScan surpasses US$50,000 on Kickstarter – Scanning the World of Images one Sweep at a Time”.

Taking into account the angle at which the LIDAR Beam was directed at the object and possibly recording changes in the angles, phase, frequency and intensity as the 3D scanning device is moved around the object, a 3D image can be easily created.

I'm of course assuming that there is only one 3D scanning device, as normally to take 3D Pictures, you need a Camera with multiple Lenses that detect light coming from slightly offset direction to create the 3D effect.

This 3D scanning device possibly compensate for that by being moved to different angles and recording the object instead of just taking static images from one angle.

CalTech's portable 3D scanning device - How portable 3D scanning device gives a boost to 3D Printing revolution

This lends itself to possible 3D Scanning applications such as an attachment to Smartphone, Video Cameras to robots that can detect and scan the surfaces that it interacts with as predicted in the article “Caltech wants to equip phones with built-in 3D scanners”, published April 5th 2015 by Mariella Moon, Engadget.

Thus, it makes it possible to not only take 3D pictures but based on the distance of 500 cm required to do accurate scans, also take 3D scans of objects. These millimeter accurate scans could then be composed into a 3D print file and printed on a 3D Printer.

Making it possible to 3D print any object without the 3D printer having to scan it first. This development potentially increases the possibility of a US$13.5 billion 3D Printing Global Market in 2018 as predicted by analyst Gartner in my blog article entitled “Gartner predicts US$13.5 billion 3D Printing Global Market in 2018 - Why Hoover and Makerbot Deal indicates 3D Printing by DIY is on the rise in 2015”.

All possible from the comfort of your smartphone or even a GoPro Camera very soon!

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