Category Archives: GIS

Apple’s iPhone X – Bringing PrimeSense 3D Scanning Technology to the Masses

Way back in 2013 (it feels way back given how fast the market continues to move on reality capture hardware and software, AR/VR applications, etc) I blogged about Apple’s acquisition of PrimeSense, and what that meant for the potential future of low cost 3D capture devices.  At the time of the acquisition, PrimeSense technology was being incorporated into a host of low cost (and admittedly relatively low accuracy) 3D capture devices, almost all leveraging the Microsoft Research KinectFusion algorithms developed as against the original Microsoft Kinect (which was based on PrimeSense tech itself).

I, and many others, have wondered when the PrimeSense technology would see the light of day.  After many rumored uses (e.g. use to drive gesture control of Apple TV, as one among many), the PrimeSense tech pipeline has emerged as the core technology behind the 3D face recognition technology which has replaced the fingerprint reader on the iPhone X.  Apple has branded the PrimeSense module as the “TrueDepth” camera.

It would surprise me if there wasn’t work already underway to use the PrimeSense technology in the iPhone X to act as a 3D scanner of objects generally –  as ultimately as enabled by/through the Apple ARKit.  Others, like those at Apple Insider, have come to the same conclusion. As one example, the TrueDepth camera could be used to capture higher quality objects to be placed within the scene that the ARKit can otherwise detect and map to (surfaces, etc.). In another, the TrueDepth camera combined with the data generated from the onboard sensor package combined with known SLAM implementations, and cloud processing, could turn the iPhone X into a mapping and large scene capture device as well as enabling the device to better localize itself within an environment that would be difficult for the device to currently work in (e.g. a relatively featureless space). The challenge with all active sensing technologies (the Apple “TrueDepth” camera, the Intel RealSense camera, or the host of commercial data acquisition devices that are available) is that they are all relatively power hungry, and therefore inefficient as a small form factor, mobile, sensing device (that, oh yeah, needs to be a phone and have long battery life).

Are we at the point where new mobile sensor packages (whether consumer or professional) coupled with new algorithms, fast(er) data transmission and cloud based GPU compute solutions will create the platform to enable crowd sourced world 3D data capture (e.g. Mapillary for the 3D world?). The potential applications working against such a dataset are virtually limitless (and truly exciting!).

MapBox, Geo Software Platform, Maps $10M from Foundry Group

It is great to see continuing venture capital and public market interest in areas such as data acquisition, unmanned aerial systems, manufacturing, AEC and GIS solutions providers.

MapBox (@MapBox) announced yesterday that it had taken a Series A investment of $10M from Foundry Group (@FoundryGroup).  After three years of bootstrapping the MapBox business, in the words of Eric Gundersen (@ericg), funding lets us plan for years of building the future of geo software, from the ground up.

MapBox is a cloud-based platform which allows for developers to embed geo rich content into their web and mobile offerings.  MapBox sources its mapping data from OpenStreetMap, keeping its operating costs low and without a tie to proprietary back end mapping databases.   It will be interesting to see how MapBox navigates the GIS/Geo Software playing field over the coming years – but more developer choices, relying on crowd-sourced mapping data, could be quite transformational indeed.

Foundry Group continues its string of investments in the technical solutions space.  They were part of a team which invested $30M into Chris Anderson’s (@chr1sa) unmanned aerial systems company 3D Robotics (@3DRobotics) a few weeks ago, which I blogged about here and were also invested into Makerbot (@Makerbot), which was recently acquired by the 3D printing company Stratasys (@Stratasys) (in mid-August 2013) for $403M (+up to $201M in earn-outs).  Seth Levine (@sether) explained some of Foundry Group’s rationale for the MapBox investment here.

Foundry Group is currently also invested into Occipital (@Occipital) which has recently developed a 3D capture device which connects to an iPad, called the Structure Sensor.  Occipital currently has a KickStarter campaign going for the Structure Sensor, and as of today they are only a few thousand dollars shy of the $1M mark. In June 2013 Occipital acquired ManCTL, adding a strong team to an already deep computer vision bench, but in this case on that had the chops to do real time 3D scene reconstruction from PrimeSense powered (a/k/a the Microsoft Kinect) devices.  Foundry Group put $8M into Occipital in August of 2011.

I am very excited to ultimately see what comes from both MapBox and Occipital!

It will be interesting to see whether/if Andreessen Horowitz (@a16z) looks for a big data, geo centric sector investment as well.