A New and Very Cheap Chip Turns a Smartphone into an Accurate 3D Scanner

Part of the 3D printing revolution will come when from almost any device we can perform a 3D object scanner to copy and send that file to the 3D printer. The new development of Caltech puts this situation closer than ever thanks to a very small and affordable chip, integrated into a smartphone, would this become a precise 3D scanner.

The chip, called NCI (nanophotonic coherent imager), is actually a kind of Interferometer which provides for each pixel in the image to scan both the intensity of the light as the phase and frequency of the signal, what gets the distance information to which each pixel of the object is located that we are copying.

First a scanner and in the future, better control interfaces

The technology used is an old known: LIDAR (Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging), which determines the distance of an object using a pulsed laser and the property of coherence. With this combination you get two achievements. On the one hand high accuracy for scanning of an object, and on the other, the device getting it may be confined to a mere 300 x 300 silicon chip microns.

The limitations of current technology, comprising only 16 of these coherent light detectors, makes only can scan objects with a size of 16 x 16 pixels. To get images of more dimensions it is necessary to go moving the object in a precise way to gather information in areas of 4 x 4 pixels.

For the future, the person in charge of the study, Ali Hajimiri, believes that technology will be bordering enough detectors to get hundreds of thousands of pixel resolutions not only have applications in scanning for accurate 3D printing, but in the detection in real time of a user’s eye movement to manage advanced control interfaces.