US, October 15, 2014: The research team of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated a laser-based imaging system that produces high-definition 3D maps of surfaces from as far away as 10.5 meters. The new mapping method may be very useful in various domains including forensics, precision machining and assembly.
Operating with laser power of just 9 milliwatts, the 3D mapping system of NIST scans a target object point-by-point across a grid, measuring the distance to each point. It uses the distance data to make a 3D image of about 1 million pixels in under 8.5 minutes at the current scanning rate. Distances to points on a rough surface that reflects light in many directions can be calculated to within 10 micrometers in half a millisecond, with an accuracy that is traceable to a frequency standard.
The system has wide dynamic range that faciliates precise 3D mapping of targets with varied surface types and reflective properties.Compared to conventional 3D mapping techniques, the new NIST method offers a unique set of capabilities.It could be used to create virtual casts of forensic evidence such as footprints in dirt. Conventional plaster casts that record impression evidence generally require a lot of effort to make and are difficult to compare to each other or to shoes. Moreovere, conventional analysis can damage the evidence. In contrast, a remotely created 3D image of a footprint can non-destructively reveal more details than a photograph, such as exact measurements of shoe tread or individual wear marks from a bicycle pedal, which is a specific detail that could link a particular shoe to a crime scene.
The research behind the project has been funded by NIST and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.