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Conjuring up glasses-free 3D for iPad, iPhone

Researchers in France develop a way to display glasses-free 3D images on mobile gadgets such as the iPad and iPhone by tapping into the front-facing camera.


Mobile gadgets like Apple's iPad and iPhone could offer glasses-free 3D courtesy of a new, developing technology created by researchers in France.

Known as Head-Coupled Perspective, the technology uses the front-facing camera on a mobile device to create a glasses-free monocular 3D display. By tracking the position of the user's head, the projected 3D image can change its perspective and offer greater interaction. Even further, the technology doesn't rely on the accelerometer built into the iPhone and iPad, so it could conceivably work for other types of mobile devices.

The researchers behind this budding technology are Professor Laurence Nigay and Ph.D. student Jeremie Francone in the Engineering Human-Computer Interaction research group at the Grenoble Informatics Laboratory in France.

In an e-mail to CNET, Francone explained how the technology works.

"Our technique uses the front-facing camera of the device to detect and track the face of the user," Francone said. "This way, it is possible to know 'how' the user looks at the display: does he look from the front, or from the right? Is the display close or far from the user's face? Knowing such information enables us to adapt the display accordingly, giving the user the illusion that he looks at a small window instead of a 2D flat screen."

Francone said that such a technique is not new and has in fact been studied over the past 15 years as part of the research into virtual environments. But what is new is adapting the technology for mobile devices. The researchers feel that mobile devices are well suited to the technology because they allow for greater interaction and take advantage of the user's ability to move.

The team started working on the project in January. The iPad version was quickly adapted from the iPhone version, which was then adapted to the iPad 2 with only a few changes, according to Francone.

How far away is this technology from the marketplace? Francone said that it works on current mobile devices with no other equipment required. So it could hit the marketplace without delay. But there are limitations due to the limited view of the built-in camera in which the perspective is unable to adjust if the user moves out of the shot.

Overall, though, the user tests performed so far have yielded "very encouraging results," Francone added.

The two videos below demonstrate the capabilities of the technology.

Glasses-free 3D on the iPhone

Glasses-free 3D on the iPad

Glasses-free viewing has been the holy grail of the 3D industry. Nintendo's new 3DS is the first portable game console to offer 3D without the need for special glasses. iPhone and iPod Touch owners can view and use a small number of 3D apps and games through a $35 gadget from Hasbro called My3D, but that requires people to peer through the device.

Apple has also been trying to tap into the 3D market. In 2009, the company filed a patent for a device that would let people look around an object on the screen from different angles. More recent reports say Apple has also been exploring the notion of adding more cameras to the iPhone to enable 3D picture taking and viewing.