• Stanford researchers have created a novel approach for simple cameras to capture in 3D.
  • Low-cost lidar aims to revolutionize the smartphone camera system.
  • Currently, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max are equipped with lidar.

Researchers at
Stanford University have created a new approach that allows standard image sensors to see light in three dimensions. This technology will allow cameras to measure the distance to objects making the three-dimensional image available on smartphones. In simple words, smartphone cameras could be able to capture images in three dimensions (3D).

Currently, this can be only achieved with specialized and expensive lidar (light detection and ranging). Lidar uses a laser that shoots at objects and measures the light that bounces back. It can tell whether the object is moving, how far is it, how fast it is traveling, or if it is moving closer.

Existing lidar systems are bulky but the lidar system that the Stanford research team built, successfully captured megapixel-resolution depth maps using a commercially available digital camera.

Smartphone cameras soon to get a different view

Currently, lidar is used in iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max, improving focus in night mode and low light. Lidar used by Stanford University is less expensive compared to Apple.

A doctoral candidate in electrical engineering at Stanford University, Okan Atalar said, “existing 3D cameras support specialized pixels. These have small fill factors meaning complex electronics will be needed to capture 3D in pixels. Our all-new approach is simple and integrates into everyday cameras like cell phones and digital cameras.”

Atalar and his advisor Amin Arbabian said these new approaches can become the basis for a new type of compact, low-cost, energy-efficient lidar. The low inexpensive lidar can find its way to extraterrestrial rovers, drones, and other applications.

Upcoming 3D capabilities on smartphone cameras will have multiple use cases

The new technology for imaging will allow capturing objects in 3D, which can then be used to experience the same object at some other place. This has many applications in remote working, healthcare, diagnostics, repairs, manufacturing and many other sectors.

Having 3D imaging on the smartphone will also open several avenues that can help add new features to apps related to fitness, wellness and even sports. For example, athletes in training could track and analyze their movement to gain insightful biomechanical analytics. Even for workouts or yoga, this feature can help you correct the posture and correct angles of your exercise.

Apple’s true depth camera makes Face ID more secure than regular Face ID as it uses 3D mapping to analyze faces. The upcoming 3D cameras will collect more information making facial recognition systems even more secure.


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