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Microsoft Wants to Turn Your Phone Into a 3-D Scanner

Imagine taking a photo of the Eiffel Tower while on a vacation to Paris. But that’s not all. Imagine returning home with your phone, plugging it into a 3-D printer, and creating a tangible recreation of your photo—something you can hold in your hand or put on your mantel, a souvenir of your own making. Microsoft Research wants to make this happen. The company’s research arm has developed a smartphone app called MobileFusion that can 3-D print objects by instantly stitching together 2D photos you take with your phone’s built-in camera. So far, MobileFusion is just a research project, so you can’t download it yet. But it’s a sure sign of things to come.2-1 Several others are working on similar tools, including Google, software outfit Autodesk, and Australian startup Eora 3D. In addition to capturing images that can later be used for 3-D printing, these apps could also provide your phone with far more detailed data about your environment—which could come in handy for navigation apps or augmented reality games. And, yes, you could use them to take 3-D selfies.2-23-D scanners have been around for years, but they’ve typically come with a catch—or two. They can cost tens of thousands of dollars and they typically require a tether to a powerful computer. By turning a smartphone into a scanner, Microsoft has broadened the possibilities. “I think 3-D content is still not a first class citizen as a file format that we commonly think about,” says Shahram Izadi, the project’s principal researcher. “But once you reach ubiquity, we’ll think about 3-D content the way they think about a [2-D] photo or a video.”

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