New camera chip could turn phones into 3D scanners

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U.S. researchers have developed a camera chip that could give smartphones the ability to take 3D scans of everyday objects, a sought-after feature in the 3D-printing world.

Engineers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) said their device is based on a cheap silicon chip less than 1 millimeter square and it can produce 3D scans with extremely fine resolution.

The chips could be incorporated into phones and the data could be sent to 3D printers to duplicate scanned objects, eliminating the need to use large desktop devices.

The device works by shining beams of light, which are perfectly aligned, on a targeted object. It then detects subtle differences in the light that is reflected back from that object. The differences help it build a digital 3D image of the target.

To shine the light, the device uses an array of tiny LIDAR (light detection and ranging) laser beam scanners. Useful for measuring distance, LIDAR elements have been used for years in applications such as navigation for driverless cars and robots.

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