Thinking Tech

How will 3-D cameras change the world

How will 3-D cameras change the world

Posting in Technology

I got a preview of future 3-D photograph from a researcher working on finding markets for it.

There are rumors of new 3-D cameras coming as early as this fall, and researcher are already working on finding industrial applications.

Hiro Nakamura is a professor at the Shibaura Institute of Technology in Tokyo. Her showed me a prototype camera and what can be done with it. He is doing research to find marketing opportunities for such systems.

I saw my first 3-D camera back in 1982, when Jerry Nims and Allen Lo rolled out their Nimslo system, which used three lenses and printed the results back-to-back-to-back on a thick substrate.

The system Hiro showed uses two lenses to simulate the process that gives human eyes depth perception. The images are simply displayed together. It looks like two cameras yoked together with steel bars. The lenses are usually set at 65 mm apart, the same distance as between your eyes, and use different focal lengths.

The results, which I also saw, look like ordinary photographs, without the color blurring common to old 3-D films. When displayed and viewed with polarized lenses, similar to those used in high-end sunglasses, the sense of perspective becomes clear.

Objects which are further away appear further away, and objects that go off into the distance -- like a bridge railing -- recede naturally. The images don't leap out at you like in an Imax movie.

Objects with minimal internal depth, like human bodies, retain their flatness. But it is a huge improvement over other 3-D systems I have seen, especially since there is no reduction in quality when images are not seen through polarizing lenses.

Prof. Nakamura is also working on ways to allow these pictures to be used generally on the Web. File sizes would not be much larger than with standard .JPEG images, and would be seen without glasses as standard .JPEGs.

The marketing problem lies in creating small markets that gradually enlarge, so that each step in the ramp-up to consumer production finds a profitable niche. This is at the heart of Prof. Nakamura's current research.

In the interest of full disclosure I have known Prof. Nakamura as a friend for over 20 years. When we met he was studying computer conferencing systems like PARTIcipate in the pre-Internet era. I stayed with him in Tokyo after a conference on that subject in Sendai in 1989.

After that, he moved into studies of Internet sociology, how access to online resources changes society. From there he moved to accessibility, issues like changing signs so aging eyes can still use them. (Colors like red tend to fade out from vision with age.)

It was through that work that he began working on spectroscopy, resulting in his present project.

Back in 1989, I remember we amazed exhibitors at a trade show in Ikebukuro by my sending stories via modem to editors in the U.S. and U.K. using my TRS-100 laptop. This story is written on a netbook which is half that weight, with a full-sized screen and keyboard, 2 GByte of internal storage, linked to a cable modem.

One more important point. The 3-D concept is over 100 years old. The last picture Nakamura showed me today was taken in 1907, and originally displayed on a system with twin lenses which created depth using the same method. He matched those two pictures into one computer file, and the old black-and-white photo suddenly came to life.

What do you think you could do with true 3-D imaging, and at consumer price points? It may be no more than three years away.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure