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Depth-sensing cameras head to mobile devices to enable AR games, 3-D scanning, more

October 1, 2013 | Telepresence Options

Structure Sensor

Story and images by Tom Simonite / MIT Technology Review

Adding 3-D sensors to existing and future mobile devices will enable augmented-reality games, handheld 3-D scanning, and better photography.

Just over a decade since cameras first appeared in cell phones, they remain one of the most used features of mobile devices, underpinning wildly popular and valuable companies such as Instagram and Snapchat. Now hardware that gives handheld computers 3-D vision may open up a new dimension to imaging apps, and enable new ways of using these devices. Early mobile apps that can scan the world in 3-D show potential for new forms of gaming, commerce, and photography.

The first mobile depth-sensing technology to hit the market is likely to be the�Structure Sensor, an accessory for Apple's iPad that gives the device capabilities similar to those of Microsoft's Kinect gaming controller.�Occipital, the San Francisco company behind the device, says it will start shipping its product in February 2014. A�Kickstarter campaign for the device�has raised almost $750,000, with more than a month to run.

Occipital has developed apps that� allow people to scan objects in 3-D by walking around them, and to scan entire rooms. One shows how the sensor can enable augmented reality, where virtual imagery is overlaid onto the real world when seen through a viewfinder. In that app, a person plays fetch with a virtual cat by throwing a virtual ball that bounces realistically off real-world objects (see video).

Jeff Powers, Occipital's CEO and cofounder, says he is currently focused on giving software developers the tools to come up with compelling apps that use 3-D sensing. Among people interested in buying the Structure Sensor, there is strong interest in gaming, and in using it to scan real-world objects to help copy or design objects to be 3-D printed. "We're also getting a lot of people asking about using this for measurements of space, to replace the way people in the construction industry are doing that today," says Powers.

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