Technology: Firm scans its future in 3D

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The Independent Online
A British technology company has registered Tricorder as a trademark for an innovative 3D scanning device. It measures and records objects - people included - in three dimensions, and can transfer the information into files capable of being used on a personal computer.

Its makers say it will bring scanning technology to the mass market, just as PCs took computers out of the hands of scientists. They predict it will have lots of uses on the Internet, for example, for creating innovative advertisements.

"Instead of looking at a flat, two- dimensional picture of some garden furniture in an advert on the Web, you will be able to download a fully interactive, full colour, three-dimensional picture of it," said Guy Fowler, the firm's chief executive. "That means you will be able to turn it around, see it from all kinds of angles and see how it might fit into your garden."

The technology has existed for a while, but at the moment is restricted to large, expensive, machines. The Tricorder, say the makers, is the first truly portable version. The problem in creating it was that to measure an object, the measuring device needs to know where in space it is.

The Tricorder uses nanotechnology - the science of exceedingly small machines - to create a tiny gyroscope inside the Tricorder, so that it can keep track of its own position relative to the object it is scanning. Then it uses a laser beam, like that used in a CD player, to look at the surface of the object. If the beam reflects back to a sensor as a straight line, it knows the surface is flat. If the line is distorted, the Tricorder calculates the object's shape from the distortion.

There are no limits to the size of object it can measure except the computer memory available to store the data. The company says it wants to take advantage of expected changes to computers and the Internet which will mean greater use of 3D images. "Parts of the Internet are 3D already," said Mr Fowler. "This is something that is going to expand, and the Tricorder technology is particularly well suited to that."

The device is still undergoing tests but is expected to be released as a professional product, costing thousands of pounds, next year. Cheaper versions aimed at home users will follow shortly afterwards.