Most of us have gotten used to smartphones replacing long-established devices such as cameras and music players. Soon, however, they might be taking over the duties of something that is itself an emerging technology – the 3D scanner. Researchers at ETH Zurich have created an app that allows an ordinary smartphone to capture and display three-dimensional models of real-world objects, for subsequent finessing or even 3D printing.

The app reportedly works in both indoor and outdoor lighting conditions, including the low light often found in museums.

Users simply point the phone's camera at the desired object, then move the phone around the subject as needed, in order to capture it from a variety of angles. The app uses the phone's inertial sensors to detect when and by how much it's moving, and automatically snaps images accordingly.

All of the calculations take place on the spot, using the phone's GPU (graphics processing unit). Users can then view the digital model from a variety of angles, and go back to get additional shots of any parts of the subject that they missed. Not only are images captured, but the actual size of the subject is also recorded – definitely a handy feature, if the user plans on 3D-printing a copy.

The app is currently patent pending, and "can run on a wide range of current smartphones." If you just can't wait, though, you can already buy the Georgia Tech-designed Trimensional 3D scanning app for iOS.

The ETH Zurich app can be seen in use in the video below.

Source: ETH Zurich