The Siggraph conference in Vancouver this week has delivered many an innovation in video capture and processing technology. Earlier, Microsoft unveiled the smoothing algorithm to make your GoPro footage easier to stomach. Now, another Microsoft team of researchers – Sean Ryan Fanello, Cem Keskin, and Shahram Izadi – are presenting research aimed at bringing 3D cameras to the masses.
3-D cameras, if it could be brought into the greater public, would have great advantages for tech and game developers. It could range from anything like greater potential for interactivity in gaming devices like the Kinect or it could create guides for the visually impaired. Hence, the reason behind something like Google's Project Tango that is trying to bring 3D cameras into mobile devices.
A cheaper, simpler 3D experience
However, current depth cameras are generally prohibitive in terms of cost and energy consumption. Probably, it's why few smartphone cameras already ship out with the capability. Since the smartphone camera is a given ubiquity, Microsoft instead began by using the average smartphone camera or webcam as a base and tried to see how far it would need to go to be able to perceive depth as a 3-D camera would, while reducing barriers of entry in terms of price and power.
In the experiments, the cameras were modified to only receive infra-red light while several cheap infra-red lights were added to the camera. The concept was that the infra-red lights will bounce off objects in the line of sight of the camera and the reflectivity index of the bounced light can tell the camera the distance of the object it bounced off.
It turns out the cameras themselves (in this case, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus camera and a Microsoft LifeCam camera) need to learn that relationship we take for granted – that bright objects are closer and dim objects are farther. Furthermore, the cameras need to be able to distinguish a small object far away or a large object close by.
But the technology is coming along and researchers are confident it will carry one day into practical application.
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