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Surprising Science

3D Camera for Your Smartphone

Engineers at MIT have discovered a new way of gathering depth information that could be used to create 3D cameras requiring only the modest processing power of a smartphone.

What’s the Latest Development?

By modifying the concept used by Microsoft’s Kinect, engineers at MIT have created a device that retrieves depth information more accurately and works under all lighting conditions. It is so small, cheap and efficient that it could be incorporated into cellphones at virtually no extra cost. Using clever algorithms, engineers created a one-pixel camera that can recreate two-dimensional images. To achieve the third dimension, a parametric algorithm was used to map real space onto a flat plane, which better predicts light refraction.

What’s the Big Idea?

Kinet works by measuring ‘time of flight’: “A pulse of infrared laser light is fired at a scene, and the camera measures the time it takes the light to return from objects at different distances.” As soon the as technology was released, intended for a new generation of gamers, computer engineers began hacking it. At MIT alone, high-tech tinkerers have created a Minority Report-style interface, a navigation system for small robotic helicopters and a holographic video transmitter.

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