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MobileFusion: Microsofts turns smartphones into 3D scanners

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Alexander Witting

Microsoft2012Numerous projects demonstrate how important it is to quickly and easily create 3D objects in the future, such as Google's Project Tango to Intel's Real Sense technology. Thankfully, most of the recent implementations don't require specific hardware, or an internet connection, and this is what makes Microsoft's MobileFusion interesting.

The software giant promises it will transform each and every smartphone into a 3D scanner, without having to be connected to the internet. A handset is merely required to have a camera, and the software itself is surprisingly simple to use. A user films an object from as many sides as possible. Based on the different points of view, the program calculates the depth data required for a 3D model. The more information the camera captures, the more precise the 3D image. The user is kept informed of the current status during th entire process - the camera image, an image of the model with all the data so far collected, as well as an image of the collected depth data.

Much more than a simple camera does not require Mobile Fusion
MobileFusion doesn't require more than a simple camera.

Graphics units on System on Chips (SoCs) are used to convert data collected with the camera. Microsoft claims the graphics units are far more suitable for such tasks - especially as there have been major leaps in increasing graphics units performance, in contrast to CPUs. Comparing the last three iPhone generations (5, 5s and 6) makes this obvious. While an iPhone 5 requires 38,3 seconds for camera alignment, the iPhone 6 requires 32,6 seconds. On the other hand, computatoin of stereo depth falls from 67,1 to 17,3 seconds. The differences in raycasting are similar: at a resolution of 256 pixels, the iPhone 5 requires 81,8 seconds for a 3D object 81.8 seconds, compared to just 24,2 seconds for the iPhone 6. Although Microsoft does not mention any details, the final version of the software is likely ot benefit more from fast GPUs, and not from count of CPU cores. However, it is important that OpenGL ES 2.0 is supported.

Microsoft is planning on bringing the software to Android and iOS devices, as well as Windows Phone. However, it will still take time until the software is launched. The application appears to be far from finished, and Microsoft is not yet satisfied with level of quality that can currently be achieved. The goal is to use 3D models created with MobileFusion for augmented reality applications, or 3D printers, without need for any further processing.