Clear Rubber Makes Detailed 3-D Imaging Portable
CREDIT: Micah Kimo Johnson/MIT
If high-resolution 3-D imaging existed outside of the lab, it could allow CSI investigators to identify the impressions left by particular guns on the casings of spent bullets. It might even distinguish moles from skin cancer growths and check for tiny flaws in jet engines. Now a synthetic rubber brick that can create impressions of any or all surfaces has made such portable 3-D imaging possible.
The transparent rubber slab, called "GelSight," has one side coated with paint that includes flecks of metal. When that side presses against a surface, its impression magnifies the surface features for cameras and computer-vision algorithms to analyze. Such a simple yet innovative technique by researchers at MIT makes 3-D imaging available for use almost anywhere.
"I think it's just a dandy thing," said Paul Debevec, an associate professor of graphics research at the University of Southern California. "It's absolutely amazing what they get out of it."
Getting such small-resolution 3-D images has typically required large microscopes or other equipment, so that some materials simply couldn't fit under the microscope to be imaged. But a human operator can hold the MIT prototype device in one hand as they move it over the surface of any object.
Debevec whose Ph.D. work shaped the special effects for the science fiction epic "The Matrix" praised the MIT group's success in getting image details more than 10 times better than anything he had seen for some surfaces. He looks forward to seeing the features that GelSight might reveal in human skin.
"This kind of data is absolutely necessary to simulate that accurately," Debevec said. "It's pure gold."
Real-world uses won't have to wait. Aerospace companies and industrial manufacturers have already approached the MIT lab about using the technique to ensure that their products have no flaws. And criminal forensics experts want to test the idea for imaging everything from the gun signature marks to fingerprints even though the resolution is far better than anything needed for such biometrics.
"The fingerprinting people keep wanting to talk to us," said Edward Adelson, a computer scientist at MIT who oversaw the GelSight project.