If you keep track of the ways the iPhone is a revolutionary tool, you can soon add 3-D printing the growing list.
A Microsoft research team has created an app that turns any smartphone camera into a 3-D scanner without the need for extra hardware.
The MobileFusion app could open the world to 3-D printing, still considered a technological advance that requires expensive equipment and sophisticated expertise. The app will be demonstrated at the International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality in October.
In the last few years, 3-D printing has made rapid advances in hardware, printing materials and the kinds of objects that can be printed, from prosthetic limbs to full-size automobiles. Desktop printers have come way down in price, but much of the process depends on owning a 3-D scanner, which range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and knowing how to use the sculpting software to refine a scan before printing.
There are other programs that allow a person to use their smartphone for 3-D scanning, but MobileFusion produces scans with just the computing power of the phone itself. The team, which used an iPhone 5s for its research, reports the scans are of a high enough quality to make 3-D-printed models (the birth of the 3-D selfie is on the horizon) or create augmented reality video games.
“This is really about the accessibility and ubiquity of 3-D scanning,” Shahram Izadi, principal researcher on the project, told the blog Inside Microsoft Research.
Izadi said research developed an algorithm that allowed the camera to act like a 3-D scanner as a user moved around an object snapping multiple photos.
Microsoft is still working on the system to ensure it can work with all mobile devices before making it available to the public.