Could the killer app we have all been waiting for be 3D laser scanning? Lidar can be used to mesh out 3D objects and rooms and layer photo imagery on top, a technique called photogrammetry. That could be the next wave of capture tech for practical uses like home improvement, or even social media and journalism.
From an article in CNET by Patrick Holland.
The ability to capture 3D data and share that info with others could open up these lidar-equipped phones and tablets to be 3D-content capture tools. Lidar could also be used without the camera element to acquire measurements for objects and spaces. I’ve already tried a few early lidar-enabled 3D scanning apps on the iPhone 12 Pro with mixed success (3D Scanner App, Lidar Scanner and Record3D), but they can be used to scan objects or map out rooms with surprising speed. The 16-foot effective range of lidar’s scanning is enough to reach across most rooms in my house, but in bigger outdoor spaces it takes more moving around. Again, Apple’s front-facing TrueDepth camera already does similar things at closer range.
Lidar allows the iPhone 12 Pro to start AR apps a lot more quickly, and build a fast map of a room to add more detail. A lot of Apple’s AR updates in iOS 14 are taking advantage of lidar to hide virtual objects behind real ones (called occlusion), and place virtual objects within more complicated room mappings, like on a table or chair. I’ve been testing it out on an Apple Arcade game, Hot Lava, which already uses lidar to scan a room and all its obstacles. I was able to place virtual objects on stairs, and have things hide behind real-life objects in the room. Expect a lot more AR apps that will start adding lidar support like this for richer experiences. Snapchat’s next wave of lenses will start adopting depth-sensing using the iPhone 12 Pro’s lidar.
But there’s extra potential beyond that, with a longer tail. Many companies are dreaming of headsets that will blend virtual objects and real ones: AR glasses, being worked on by Facebook, Qualcomm, Snapchat, Microsoft, Magic Leap and most likely Apple and others, will rely on having advanced 3D maps of the world to layer virtual objects onto. Those 3D maps are being built now with special scanners and equipment, almost like the world-scanning version of those Google Maps cars. But there’s a possibility that people’s own devices could eventually help crowdsource that info, or add extra on-the-fly data.
Again, AR headsets like Magic Leap and HoloLens already prescan your environment before layering things into it, and Apple’s lidar-equipped AR tech works the same way. In that sense, the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro are like AR headsets without the headset part… and could pave the way for Apple to make its own glasses eventually.
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