Researchers, including one of Indian-origin, have developed a 3D camera that is inexpensive, produces high-quality images, and works in all environments -- including outdoors.
"When Microsoft released its 3D camera Kinect in 2010, it transformed the video game industry," said Mohit Gupta, study co-author from the Columbia University.
The most inexpensive 3D camera to date, the Kinect bypassed the need for joysticks and controllers by sensing the user's gestures, leading to a feeling of total immersion into the game.
But users quickly discovered the Kinect's limitations. It does not work outdoors and it produces relatively low-quality images, the study said.
"In order for a 3D camera to be useful, it has to be something you can use in everyday, normal environments," said Oliver Cossairt, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Northwestern University.
"Outdoors is a part of that, and that is something the Kinect cannot do, but our Motion Contrast 3-D scanner can," Cossairt noted.
The project is supported by the Office of Naval Research and the US Department of Energy.
The new camera has many applications for devices in science and industry that rely on capturing the 3-D shapes of scenes "in the wild," such as in robotics, bioinformatics, augmented reality, and manufacturing automation.
It could potentially also be used for navigation purposes, install on anything from a car to a motorised wheelchair, study pointed out.
The findings were presented at the IEEE International Conference on Computational Photography in Houston.