This June has seen a major announcement in the world of 3D imaging that – perhaps for the first time – was big news in the world of consumer electronics as well. Multiple sources reported that Google’s Project Tango was built upon a partnership with Mantis Vision, who was supplying their MV4D technology as Tango’s 3D solution. If you doubt how big of a deal this is for Mantis Vision, consider the following facts: 1) They immediately changed their website from www.mantis-vision.com to www.MV4D.com. 2) They announced that they just raised $12.5 million from the likes of Qualcomm and Samsung!
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note here that in my day job (w/ SmartGeoMetrics) I work as a distributor and partner with Mantis Vision. I’d love to say that I knew this was coming, but the only thing I can truthfully say is that the sudden change in communications and availability of Mantis Vision’s executives over the past few months now makes a lot more sense! Let’s start by looking at the tech and then we’ll come back to the funding news.
If you are unfamiliar with Mantis Vision, the basics are that their MV4D technology is a structured light sensor. They use their proprietary “Structured Light Pattern,” which is projected onto the object to be captured. The capturing cameras are synced with the Structured Light Pattern. This is possible due to their patent-pending flash driver, which projects the Structured Light Pattern in a way that is efficient enough to be used on mobile platforms. Another interesting feature is that the projected pattern is invisible to the naked eye, due to being infrared. All image processing is completed onboard in real time. There seem to be several options when it comes to the camera, as Mantis has mentioned using single and dual sensor units, custom and off-the-shelf camera modules, as well as sensors that collect RGB and IR data.
Given the variables, you can imagine that the platforms can be quite varied as well. Most of us in the 3D imaging professions are likely familiar with the Mantis Vision F5 hand scanner. We now have news of the mobile platform development via Project Tango, but what seems to have been lost in all of this is the release of the PocketScan3D. Mantis is calling this “the first professional grade 3D pocket scanner.” I’ve not been able to find any hard metrics on the accuracy of the PocketScan3D, but from using the F5 I know that they are capable of 0.5mm accuracy. The PocketScan3D uses an ancillary device for processing (tablet, laptop, etc.) but once again, I’ve not been able to find any hardware specifications. They have announced that a beta testing program will be starting soon, so I suspect that they do not have enough data at this time to start writing technical-specification releases.
Now for the funding story. While Mantis Vision has raised some $25 million in private funding since being founded in 2005, this new investment of $12.5 million is the first public funding to date. So who are these public investors? Mostly companies with interests in the mobile space such as Samsung, Qualcomm Ventures, Lab IX (Flextronics investment arm) and Chinese optical manufacturer Sunny Optical Technologies.
Mantis CEO Amihai Loven has been quoted as saying, “The goal is to… further penetrate into the mobile [market]by licensing the core technology to OEMs to enable them to get access to hardware components and designs with their supply chain and to push the software development both at the core level — let’s call it the 3D engine that makes the input of the camera become 3D data — but also an application platform, which is not an application by itself, which is more like an SDK for developers, which allows constant editing, altering and manipulation for sampled 3D data.” Considering the proliferation of camera apps in the mobile environment over the past 3-5 years, I can only imagine the 3D imaging apps we will be using in the next 3-5 years.
Now for the reason that I enjoy being a blogger as opposed to a journalist: rampant speculation! While I appreciate Mantis Visions’ interest in bringing professional-grade 3D imaging to the masses (and making the technology more portable for us professionals), what I see happening with mobile platforms is the introduction of a new class of 3D imaging systems. In most technologically supported professions there is an amateur class – think of photographers or musicians or filmmakers. For each of these amateur classes there are professional hardware and software solutions that are available but a bit too expensive for folks that enjoy these pursuits without actually making any money pursuing them. So, there is another line, a prosumer line of solutions with good quality but not all of the features. The Canon Rebel to the EOS 1-D, the Squire Standard Telecaster to the MasterBuilt 1962 Custom Relic Tele, iMovie to Final Cut Pro. Will Project Tango represent the launch of this new prosumer line? Perhaps it will be the new PocketScan3D. Either way, I’m convinced it is on its way.