The National Science Foundation has awarded UMBC a Major Research Instrumentation grant to acquire a 3D scanner the size of a room. The scanner will work by having many digital cameras simultaneously take two-dimensional pictures, with each picture providing a different perspective of the same scene. Software then combines all of these 2D images into a 3D model. Unlike other technologies for 3D scanning, this approach provides not only shapes but also the full-color appearance of everything in the scene.
Professor Marc Olano in the Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering is the principal investigator for this project. Reflecting his enthusiasm for the breadth of applications afforded by this new research tool, Dr. Olano shares that "this facility will support projects from art to physics, increase understanding of elements of the physical world from forests to brains, create and analyze models of objects from mechanical parts to historical artifacts, and create 3D scans of individuals for uses as diverse as building prosthetics to building games." Co-Principal Investigator Dan Bailey, the Director of UMBC's Imaging Research Center (IRC), is also enthusiastic about the variety of projects which this equipment will advance. He has contributed a room within the IRC to become a dedicated space for this equipment, sharing that "this scanner will support numerous research efforts across all Colleges and disciplines. We look forward to having many new faculty faces in the IRC."
While technology has existed for 3D scanning for some time, the use of digital photographs to create 3D scans is a relatively new approach, providing options that were not available in earlier forms of 3D scanners. As Professor Bailey explains, "for the work of scanning humans, artwork, and artifacts to be used in real-time visualizations or animations, the surface information of an object is as important as the shape. What is unique about this scanner is that it records the surface color at high resolution and correctly aligns it to the surface and shape. In the past, with laser scanners that only scan the shape, the surface information was extremely difficult to record and align."
While very few tools such as this one exist, similar techniques are being used for high-budget applications such as blockbuster movies. With this facility in place, UMBC will have a valuable opportunity to move this technology forward and to apply it to new disciplines. Dr. Olano shares that "this facility brings Hollywood 3D scanning technology to science, art and the humanities at UMBC."
Pictured: Professor Marc Olano in a Direct Dimensions 3D scanner with about 30 cameras. UMBC's scanner will have three times as many cameras, allowing for a larger area to be scanned