US technology consulting firm Heuristic Labs has just launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance LazeeEye, a 3D camera add-on for any smartphone.
Creating hardware add-ons for smartphones is currently one of the most fertile areas for technology startups. Such add-ons extend basic smartphone functionality, enabling mobile users to enhance and expand the power of their existing mobile device without having to purchase a new one. The latest novelty in this trend is LazeeEye. Massachussetts-based tech consultancy Heuristic Labs is planning to market an attachment which, when plugged into your smartphone, enables you to take and manipulate 3D images. The parallel aim of this project is to facilitate development of a new generation of 3D photo applications and services which could, for example, allow you to visualise what your living room would look like with a new couch. The gizmo is still at prototype stage and undergoing further development at Heuristic Labs, which has just launched a campaign on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform, aiming to raise $250,000 to take LazeeEye forward.
Low-cost extension to your smartphone
Heuristic Labs is aiming to increase the functionality of your smartphone with the LazeeEye 3D camera attachment. The system comprises a laser illuminator hardware add-on plus stereo vision processing app, which together will bestow depth perception via stereo vision – i.e. basically letting your existing smartphone camera see in 3D. The way the active stereo vision technology works is that the camera already on your phone is augmented with a second ‘laser eye’ from the attachment. With LazeeEye you will be able to remove objects or people outside a given depth, remove and/or replace the background scene in photos, change the angle or lighting of the photo after the fact, implement and play augmented reality games, take real 3D measurements from the photo, and use many other applications that use 3D mapping. First and foremost LazeeEye means you can obtain a 3D camera cheaply as, says the Kickstarter pitch, it “uses existing components that are already mass-manufactured […]for the laser illuminator, and […] it utilizes the low-power/light-weight processing and high-resolution camera that already exists in millions of smartphones.” LazeeEye comes in the form of a $50 DIY kit for people who are happy to assemble the hardware themselves, or as a $75 pre-assembled version.
Encouraging devs to build apps using 3D tech
The LazeeEye prototype still requires some development work. The Heuristic Labs team need to improve the hardware design and optimise their algorithms and software before the 3D mapping technology can be successfully marketed to a mass audience. The product should however be ready to ship to Kickstarter backers by June. The LazeeEye project has many similarities with Google’s Project Tango prototype smartphone, which was unveiled in February. This Android-powered handset with built-in depth sensors is designed to enable the phone user to map and visualise interior spaces. Meanwhile both LazeeEye and Project Tango are keen to discover what sort of apps developers can build with such a device in their hands. LazeeEye will however have to compete with other products on the same market such as the ‘Structure Sensor’ from Occipital, which is an add-on module designed solely for iOS mobile devices. But this module comes far more expensive than LazeeEye – around $250 – as it includes its own camera and processing system.