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Scanning the Virtual World


Researchers at the Computer Vision Lab at ETH Zurich have developed a method to scan and exchange virtual copies of real objects.

The researchers developed a method for combining visual and haptic impressions with one another. While a 3D scanner records an image of the object, a user simultaneously senses the object using a haptic device. The sensor arm, which can be moved in any direction and is equipped with force, acceleration, and slip sensors, collects information about shape and solidity. With the aid of an algorithm, a virtual copy is created on the computer from the measurements — even while the object is still being scanned and probed.

The virtual copy can then be sent to another person over the Internet. In order for this other person to be able to see and feel the virtual object, special equipment is needed — data goggles with a monitor onto which the virtual object is projected, and a sensor rod which is equipped with small motors. A computer program calculates when the virtual object and the sensor rod meet, and then sends a signal to the motors in the rod. These brake the movement that is being made by the user, thereby simulating resistance.

Whereas earlier attempts simulated the virtual object largely on the basis of assumptions, the method developed by the ETH researchers is based more heavily on measured data. “Our approach can be viewed as an extension of photography,” explained ETH Computer Vision Lab member Matthias Harders. The method is particularly advantageous in the case of complex objects which would be difficult to describe with a model.

Read Claudia Hoffmann's complete "Virtual reality you can touch" story here.


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