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When the power of desktop PCs found its way into mobile phones, the world changed. Capabilities and features continue pop up—but very few have the potential of 3D imaging technology.

According to GSMA intelligence data, over 5 billion people today own a mobile device—nearly two out of three people on the planet. Smartphones and other mobile devices have proliferated globally faster than any other electronic innovation in history, including television—or even electricity.

Why did this happen? In large part, it’s because mobility is fundamental to life. Yet just as people don’t sit still, they interact with their world in three dimensions. The integration of 3D imaging technology into mobile devices matches people’s natural ways of working, playing, buying, and even thinking. Here are just some of the ways 3D is advancing technology inside your mobile device.

Facial Recognition

Perhaps the most well-known mobile use, 3D facial recognition is not only a more secure way to use your phone, but remains a more accurate and convenient than fingerprints or passwords. While 2D facial identification is performed on a mobile device against a stored image, 3D can be used quickly as live recognition technology, opening up additional usage possibilities.

Depth cameras also reliably support other uses, starting with app entry (e.g., gaming and merchant apps), followed by account logins and ultimately payments and purchases. Throughout China it’s common to pay for purchases using facial recognition kiosks; U.S. is in the early stages of adoption.

Augmented Reality

For decades the promise of mainstream virtual reality has been talked about but never grown to fruition. Much closer to an actual rollout is AR. Augmented reality provides a lot of the same benefits VR does without the bulky headsets – home decorating, DIY, and home renovation are just some of the possibilities available with AR. Other AR applications, with depth cameras,include smart room measurement for dimensioning: AR for furniture placement in rooms: where you can change colors or even move walls to give your living space the perfect look.

3D Scanning

As a revolutionary tool for both online and physical retailers, 3D scanning will change the way we shop, particularly for clothing. Most clothing returns occur because garments don’t fit, or don’t flatter the customer as expected. Virtual fitting rooms—an idea introduced several years ago and just now becoming truly feasible—can solve these problems. Mobile phones or in store fitting rooms, with 3D scanning, will allow customers to see themselves wearing garments virtually, reducing fit issues and increasing customer satisfaction.

Other uses for 3D include room scanning for real estate, restaurants and hotels. In the past, expensive 2D cameras designed for virtual tours were required to capture properties, but now mobile devices can do a more accurate job at a lower cost. Finally, 3D scanners are being employed by package delivery services, movers and logistics companies in their PDAs to quickly measure packages and to assess the exact dimensions of their cargo.

New Opportunities

In the near term, payments and banking are the most exciting and far-reaching uses for mobile 3D. Financial institutions are beginning to apply facial recognition—essentially a more secure password that only the user can utilize. It’s expected that the U.S. will follow much of the rest of the world in using facial recognition at checkouts, either by completing transactions through mobile apps or in front of a retail kiosk.

Healthcare stands to benefit greatly. Clinicians and patients will be able to use 3D-enabled telehealth applications for everything from wound management to monitoring and orthopedic assessment. Remote rehabilitation services will enable patient and therapist to communicate exercises and gauge progress. Caregivers and emergency personnel will also find 3D mobile devices to be an easy way to monitor for falls or for movement outside prescribed areas.

For some, 3D technology prompts security or privacy issues, especially in uses that employ facial recognition. Such concerns are unnecessary; facial recognition is actually more secure than fingerprints because more data points are collected—and the resulting string is matched anonymously, via encrypted algorithm, the same way fingerprints or passwords are validated. Furthermore, facial recognition is a more natural way to identify oneself because no direct action is required, such as typing in a password or offering a fingerprint.

Just as smartphones have proven their worth as a platform supporting thousands of practical applications, 3D cameras and software applications are limitless. Anywhere people need to analyze beyond a flat surface, 3D technology can deliver. With more people using smart phones around the world, utility is more critical than ever—and 3D can add that extra dimension.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Chen, Ph D. is co-founder and director of engineering for Orbbec 3D Technology International, Inc. A leading expert in 3D camera technology and a longtime advocate in the use of depth perception. David has spent nearly a decade working to fine tune the use of depth technology, finding new and innovative applications, to harness 3D, in our daily lives. He believes 3D camera technology will be the new baseline for what people expect out of their computing devices.