Friday, September 15, 2006

New camera opens up a new dimension

By: Tyler Riggs

Issue date: 2/20/04 Section: Campus News
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Research professor Robert Pack and his brother Brent obtained a patent for the technology used to create this 3-D image-captuing camera.
Media Credit: Photo by John Zsiray
Research professor Robert Pack and his brother Brent obtained a patent for the technology used to create this 3-D image-captuing camera.

3-D imaging technology could potentially be valuable to the military and space missions.
Media Credit: Photo by John Zsiray
3-D imaging technology could potentially be valuable to the military and space missions.

A new camera designed and built at Utah State University is opening up a new dimension in photography - the third dimension.

Research professor Robert Pack and his brother Brent came up with the idea for a camera that could capture three-dimensional images. The brothers brought the technology to USU six years ago.

"This is what we call a fundamentally new type of camera," Pack said. 'There really is nothing out there that's quite like this."

The camera slightly resembles a robot with its lens sitting atop two glass circles that make up the laser sighting system of the camera. While the device itself might look like something from an 80s science fiction movie, the potential uses of the camera are definitely in the 21st century.

"Application is everywhere," Pack said. "Imagine all the ways cameras are used in all the different industries, this would be a subset of it.

"[The camera] has a similar sort of breadth of use."

Pack said the camera could be used in the future to allow real estate agents to give virtual tours of houses, help with satellite docking systems in space, enhance technology on space missions like the Mars rovers and in tactical military applications.

"It's particularly strong for people in the military where they want to have instantaneous understanding of objects," Pack said. The camera technology could be used on a missile or unmanned aerial vehicle, giving three-dimensional reconnaissance of strategic areas.

"It helps them figure out what's changed since they fired a missile, what's changed in the hour or two it actually takes to get to a target," he said.

The camera technology could aid humanity in the future but its development has been giving real-life experiences to students now.

Brandon Withers, a graduate student studying electrical engineering, was hired to help with the camera project at the beginning of the school year.

"I have been working mainly with the laser," Withers said. "I've been writing the code to be able to communicate with the laser through the [personal computer], being able to control it to do what we want."

The laser system on the camera is designed to ensure the accuracy of distances of the pictures taken so that the images can be compiled accurately.

"It's just going to be a part of the huge imaging technology that there is," Withers said. He said he has heard that there is upwards of a billion-dollar market for potential development of the technology.

The lens on top of the device takes many pictures and, with the help of the laser system, compiles them into a 3-D representation of a certain view. The images can then be compiled using software to create realistic views of any object, Pack said.

When first viewing the 3-D image on a computer screen, it looks like just another picture. Using the software, however, it is possible to rotate the image in any direction, enabling the user to see the elevations and depths of the photographs.

Pack said current methods for creating 3-D worlds are cumbersome and using this new technology, based on LIDAR (light detection and ranging) and texture elements, computer programmers, movie makers and many others will be able to create 3-D images almost instantly in the future.

"It's a good cost- and time-saver for people who need virtual reality whenever," Pack said.

When the patent process for the camera started three years ago, Pack said he was not aware of the success that was about to come. All of the patent claims made by Pack and his research team were approved.

"It's a very strong patent, none of our claims were denied which is very unusual," he said. "We were kind of shocked, I think it's because it's so brand new."

-str@cc.usu.edu
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