Rock stars, Hollywood take a look at Iowa State researcher's unique 3-D technology

Jun 15, 2010
William Lohry, an Iowa State University senior studying chemical engineering, looks over a 3-D image of Sam Robinson, a former student of Song Zhang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Zhang is working to develop real-time, high-resolution, 3-D imaging technology. Credit: Photo by Bob Elbert/Iowa State University

William Lohry took a seat before a projector-camera combination and offered his best smile.

And there, on a nearby computer monitor, was a perfect, but colorless, 3-D image of every line, contour and movement on the face of the senior chemical engineering major from Sioux City. It was like a moving mask, digitally and exactly executed.

Song Zhang, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, remembers the reaction when he first showed his imaging technology to a scientific conference in 2004: "They were shocked by this technology."

Back then, Zhang was a doctoral student at New York's Stony Brook University working to develop high-resolution, real-time, precise, 3-D images of lung and chest movement. The idea was to develop a new kind of to diagnose health problems.

But attendees at the conference were more interested in using the technology to scan faces. It could, for example, be used in and security applications. And now, with the spread of 3-D movies and television, Zhang is regularly hearing from Hollywood, video game producers and even rock stars.

One of the latest calls came from megaband U2. The band was looking for some imagery to show on the video screens during its performance of "Even Better than the Real Thing" at this month's Glastonbury Festival in England. Band representatives contacted Zhang and he sent along footage of his technology in action. U2, however, has had to cancel its festival appearance because of a back injury to singer Bono.

But Zhang isn't too disappointed. He thinks the band will eventually use his footage. Besides, a stylized version of his technology is already featured in a music video by the band Radiohead:

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
In Radiohead's new video for "House of Cards", no cameras or lights were used. Instead, 3D plotting technologies collected information about the shapes and relative distances of objects. The video was created entirely with visualizations of that data. Directed by James Frost

As for Hollywood and the , Zhang says he has some work to do before he can help. The current technology requires a lot of data and memory. It's too much to be practical for the entertainment industries right now, but Zhang and his research group are working to develop tools that don't require as much data.

Zhang's technology depends on some simple hardware: one camera, one projector and one personal computer. The projector sends coded patterns over a subject such as Lohry's smiling face. The camera, positioned at a different angle than the projector, records the resulting images. The key to producing real-time, high-resolution, 3-D images is the software developed by Zhang.

"There are many technologies that come together to make this possible," said Zhang.

Zhang and the Iowa State University Research Foundation, Inc. have filed patents for the 3-D technology.

Zhang's work is currently supported by university startup funds and a $360,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant. He's also collaborating with other researchers to develop new applications for the technology.

One project, for example, involves imaging a beating heart at 1,000 frames per second. Another project is developing a vision system for a robot. The graduate and undergraduate students working in Zhang's 3-D Machine Vision Laboratory are working on several other projects: Nik Karpinsky, a master's student from Schofield, Wis., who's studying human computer interaction, is working to develop 3-D video conferencing technology. Yuanzheng Gong, a doctoral student from China studying mechanical engineering, and Victor Villagomez, a senior from Mexico City studying computer engineering, are working on 3-D image analysis.

Zhang said there are many more possibilities for this technology.

"Hopefully," he said, "it will be used in many fields."

Explore further: A spray-on light show on four wheels: Darkside Scientific

Related Stories

Charges in Silicon Valley secrets theft

Dec 23, 2005

A former Netgear engineer was charged Thursday with stealing trade secrets from his former company and distributing them to colleagues at his new job.

First hyperlens for sound waves created

Oct 25, 2009

Ultrasound and underwater sonar devices could "see" a big improvement thanks to development of the world's first acoustic hyperlens. Created by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley ...

Recommended for you

A spray-on light show on four wheels: Darkside Scientific

Sep 14, 2014

Darkside Scientific recently drew a lot of gazes its way in its video release of a car treated to the company's electroluminescent paint called LumiLor. Electroluminescence (EL) is a characteristic of a material ...

Research project on accident-avoiding vehicle concluded

Sep 12, 2014

PRORETA 3 is completed after three and a half years of research work: The comprehensive driver assistance and automated maneuver concept supports the driver in keeping the vehicle in a safe driving corridor- ...

Making drones more customizable

Sep 12, 2014

A first-ever standard "operating system" for drones, developed by a startup with MIT roots, could soon help manufacturers easily design and customize unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for multiple applications.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

labtvonline
not rated yet Jun 15, 2010
This appears to look more like a hologram than a standard 3-D image. Im not sure but it looks very similar to the technology explained in this video.

http://www.ndep.u...nference