How long have we been waiting for replicators like what Gene Roddenberry promised? Short answer: too damn long. This digitally scanning "reconstruction sphere" just got us halfway there.
The Orcam (Orbital Camera System) by NEK GmbH is an omni-directional digital scanner that accommodates items up to 80cm wide and 100kg in weight. Users set the object within the Orcam and close the sphere to begin the automated recording process. The inside of the sphere is studded with diffusion bulbs that provide a shadow-free environment. When the process begins, a set of seven, fixed focal-point cameras rotate around the object taking simultaneous photographs until the item has been imaged from all directions in space.
Then, specialised software developed by the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence at Kaiserslautern stitches the images together into a 3D digital model with submillimetre accuracy, and perfectly replicating the item's shape, colour, texture and reflectivity. All without touching the object.
According to NEK website, "the aim of Orcam is the automated transfer of real objects in a high-quality digital representation for the purpose of making available in digital media like the Internet, movies, pictures and computer games." That's selling the technology short, I say.
The applications for this device are nearly endless. You could tour the world's most revered museums online and manhandle examine anything you see to your heart's content. Museums themselves could employ it to archive their stores of antiques and specimens without fear of destroying the priceless artefacts in the process. You could connect it to a 3D printer to make a 3D photocopier. Hook it up to MIT's Food Printer and voila! -- Replicator a la Star Trek. [NEK, DVice]
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