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Every existing smartphone and tablet can now be a 3D scanner

Microsoft research team claims it has devised a way to turn 2D images into a 3D renderings in less than two minutes.

As 3D printing technology crawls out from the darkened corners where basement hobbyists toil and comes into the light of ubiquity (and affordability), so has the market for 3D scanners.

It's one thing to have the ability to download and print the virtual thingamabobs of others, but it's another thing entirely to capture and manipulate all the thingamabobs of your very own!

Professional 3D scanners can cost several thousand dollars; however, a new wave for consumer-grade scanners is beginning to make its way to market. Makerbot, for example, recently introduced a desktop "Digitizer" scanner for $1400. And over the summer, UK-based Fuel3D initiated a blockbuster Kickstarter campaign to produce a handheld "point-and-shoot" 3D scanner, which the company eventually hopes to market for under a grand.

However, the biggest potential change in bringing 3D technology to the masses may be a new breakthrough from Microsoft's 3D Object Reconstruction and Recognition research team, which recently presented a technology that will allow anyone to scan in a 3D object using only a regular camera or tablet.

With a little help from the cloud

According to the researchers, the technology will work on any mobile device (with an RGB camera) in conjunction with their Cloud-based software. Mega computational power is needed to transform 2D images into 3D renderings - however, the procedure can be outsourced to the Cloud and thrown back to the device in "around half-a-minute."

Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn't provided any examples from this new solution, so the quality or ease of the technology cannot be readily determined. (We have reached out for some examples of the technology and will update as soon as Microsoft gets back to us.)

However the concept of creating 3D models from 2D images has been successfully accomplished as you can see in this demo video from modeling software firm TriAyaam.

The video makes it seem that a bit of post-production work is necessary for this 2D to 3D solution. However it is possible that learned algorithmic chefs working in conjunction with robust cloud processors could knock a few steps from the process. But we should reiterate--all has yet to be demonstrated.

So, what does this potential new 3D scanner revolution mean? Beyond printers, 3D scanners would give amateur video-game designers and other digital artists the ability to transfer the places, objects, and faces of the people around them into the virtual domain.

Regardless of how this 3D-scanning technology comes about, there's a good chance the future will be filled with creepy gifts that incorporate your likeness as well as with eerily specific video games. There will probably be lots of good stuff too, but mostly expect creepy gifts and weird video games.