As one of the most popular new technologies, 3D printing is likely to continue its rapid growth in the consumer market over the next few years. With 3D printers becoming more common in homes, another possible growth might be in the use of 3D scanners. Users find something they’d like to make a replica of, and with a few quick photos they can go home and get to work. This could become even easier than expected, as a team of researchers at Caltech have designed a new camera chip that would allow your smartphone to take those 3D scans.
The researchers have dubbed their silicon chip nanophotonic coherent imager (NCI), and say that its 3D scanning is so precise, it’s capable of producing a “replica accurate to within microns of the original object.” Not only is the chip cheap, it’s also small, measuring less than a millimeter square, meaning it could fit into the smartphones we’re used to today, and not require any extra hardware.
Caltech says the chip relies on LIDAR to cover an object with laser beams, allowing to capture height, width, and depth. Overall size is also determined by the light that reflects and bounces off the scanned object.
The images above of a scanned penny are an example of the size of objects Caltech’s prototype is currently capable of, but they hope to move on to larger items soon. One researcher from the team says they hope the chips small size and high quality will result in significant cost reductions in the technology, allowing it to be used in smartphones, for example, but also a range of other personal devices.