If you have ever played with the Xbox Kinect, you will have a good idea of what a 3D sensor can do! If you have not, you should because using the Kinect will you give an idea of how close this technology is to a digital version of the human eye. Whatsmore, Apple will probably place this technology into the next generation of iPhones later this year allowing them to push a range of new services to their users. The use of 3D sensors in the iPhone will allow that technology to get to scale fast and lower cost which will in turn be good for a whole range of new applications such as driverless driving.
The human eye works by capturing reflected light from a light source such as the sun which our brain processes and lets us know what the objects are and how far they are away. A 3D sensor works in a similar way to the human eye but it sends light out through an infrared LED towards a target object, which reflects the light back to an image sensor which provides lots of information such as colour and depth which is then analysed by an internal processor which used sophisticated algorithms to decipher the patterns. And just like our eye and brain the more a 3D sensor system sees, the more it learns and the more it recognises and the faster it can react. This of course begs the question why Apple would put such as sensor in a mobile phone!
3D sensor capabilities allow features like facial recognition which will in turn allow software developers to unlock a huge range of different Apps. For Apple it is chance for them to increase the penetration of Apple Pay, as an online payment system, by increasing security around payments which could be based on highly secure facial recognition. 3D sensors could also have a significant impact on the online shopping experience particularly around clothing allowing you to buy “customised” clothing without having to go to the shop and get the clothes fitted! And for someone like myself who is renovating an old house, gone will be the need for measuring tapes, levels and rulers and with the aid of the iPhone I will be able to quickly and easily render 3D models of the whole house, which will aid interior designers.
But perhaps the biggest impact of Apple’s new iPhone will be to reduce the cost of 3D sensors for other applications such as autonomous drones and cars. Now of course there are many people who are scared of driverless cars but the point will come when the accuracy, reliability and speed of 3D sensors will be greater than that of the human eye. In fact, we are already starting to see the beginnings of this with the Tesla motorcar. A few months back, Tesla released a software update for its autopilot application which now allows the car to see two vehicles in front of itself! And since then we have seen numerous examples of the Forward Collision Warning alert actually brake before the car in front could react to what the car two cars in from was doing!
And as we develop better and cheaper sensors and companies like Mobileye build up the necessary database of situations that a vehicle faces every days, the algorithms that enable autonomous driving will become increasingly impressive and eventually bypass the abilities of the human being. And at that point may be we will ban human driving on safety concerns…