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Microsoft is turning the iPhone's camera into a 3D scanner

Microsoft is turning the iPhone's camera into a 3D scanner

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Microsoft wants the camera on the back of your phone to do more than take 2D photos. A new project from Microsoft's research lab is turning the average smartphone's rear camera into a 3D scanner — one that can automatically create 3D models that are supposed to be good enough for printing. In a demo video, researchers use an iPhone 5S to scan objects just by moving the phone around them. The phone tracks the object that's being captured and then builds up a model as the camera captures it from different angles.

Most smartphones should be able to do this

Some of the models created in the demo video look rough, but they're pretty impressive when you consider that the iPhone wasn't designed to make them. Microsoft says that no additional hardware is needed to turn the iPhone — or other modern smartphones — into a 3D scanner; computation is all done on the phone, too. That's a bit different from what Google is doing with projects like Tango, which use additional hardware, including a motion-tracking camera and a depth sensor, when mapping the world. Those additional sensors are likely to give Tango better results, but Microsoft says that just a single camera should be enough to make models for printing or use in augmented reality gaming.

Microsoft's project is called MobileFusion, and researchers are currently trying to get it running on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. There are no release plans yet, but the intention is to make it available to the general public eventually.