3D scanners are getting better at creating 3D models of real-world objects, but consumer-grade devices tend to only handle small items, or scan with a low resolution. Now, German research institute Fraunhofer has unveiled its new 3D scanner that uses infrared rays to capture objects and people in more detail, snapping up to 36 three-dimensional images per second.

Rather than using lasers like many other 3D scanners, Fraunhofer's device functions more like Microsoft's Kinect, projecting an invisible near-infrared pattern onto whatever it's scanning. The specially developed near-infrared projector alternates quickly between different patterns, and this mesh of measurement points bounces back to a pair of near-infrared cameras. Software can then construct a three-dimensional image from the data in a matter of milliseconds.

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Each image has a resolution of 1,000 x 1,000 pixels, while shots from a color camera can be combined to adds a splash of color to the models. Capturing 36 of these 3D frames per second, the device can quickly create moving, colored, three-dimensional images which, the creators say, means the device strikes a good balance between the speed and image quality of the scan.

"Although there are scanners that are faster, they render 3D images with a poorer resolution," says Peter Kühmstedt, head researcher on the project. "If, on the other hand, the scanners are more accurate, they tend to be much slower. Moreover, most scanners work in the visible range and the projections of the patterns may even interfere or have disturbing glare effects. Our measurement goes on completely unseen. The novelty of our development is the finely tuned overall package – and this is still one of the greatest challenges in development work."

Fraunhofer says the infrared 3D scanner could have applications in multiple fields, like developing better vision systems for robots, helping ensure rehabilitation patients are performing exercises correctly, or for security monitoring.

The company hasn't given any details on price or availability just yet, but a prototype of the device will be demonstrated at the Stuttgart Control Trade Fair next week.

Source: Fraunhofer