Last Thursday, Mantis Vision unveiled Aquila, their very own Android tablet. (SPAR's Sam Billingsley recently covered Mantis Vision after they announced that their hardware was being used in Google's hotly tipped Project Tango.)
The tablet, which goes by the name Aquila, is being produced by Mantis Vision with global supply chain company Flextronics. It has an 8-inch screen, can easily be held in your hand, and looks a bit like Google's Project Tango. So how is it different? Who is it for? What does it mean for you? Here are the details from around the web, and my own take at the end. (For news straight from the source, see Mantis Vision's own press release.)
Tom's Guide offers the hard facts on how the technology works. The key, they say, is the tablet's combination of a 13 megapixel camera with a "tiny infrared illuminator, which projects a fine pattern of dots over the subject it's scanning. Reading this pattern with its 720p infrared camera and crunching the data on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, the Aquila creates a dense "point cloud" that represents the object, with detail down to 0.22mm." This appears to be the same technology that Mantis Vision uses in their other scanners, but ported to a tablet.
Gizmodo explains that, unlike Google's Tango, this tablet is not intended for professional-grade applications. Why is that? "Google's super-powerful tablet was loaded with hardware designed for 3D mapping in some very specific use-cases, like capturing a detailed 3D picture of the dimensions of a building in more or less real-time. To do it, Google used some fancy tech like Nvidia's Tegra K processor and a hodgepodge of tech from a long list of 3D imaging startups. By contrast, the Aquila tablet uses the same Snapdragon 801 processor found in most flagship phones. Everything from the processor to the cameras is hardware you can buy off the shelf."
What is the tablet intended to do, then? As of right now, it's intended to give developers access to 3D scanning technology. "Rather than close off possibilities to developers by incorporating a lot of proprietary or specialized tech," the article continues, "Mantis hopes to leave more options open."
"But whereas Project Tango smartphones and tablets focus more on where the device is in relation to the space around it -- a helpful property when it comes to 3D mapping -- [Mantis Vision CEO Amihai] Loven said the Aquila tablet is more for developers to create content that could be used in things like gaming."
"The idea here is that the 3D market is application driven," Loven is quoted as saying.
It is very clear that the Aquila is not Mantis Vision's hardware solution for more precise applications (their F5 series of scanners already fills that niche). Instead, the tablet is intended to give developers a set of tools to produce 3D content, as well as create new applications that use 3D technology.
What kind of applications would those developers create? The most obvious answer is: applications that will allow average people to produce their own 3D content. This 3D content could be anything from an immersive virtual environment that recreates an oil rig for training purposes to a 3D video of a loved one's birthday celebration. Once these applications are created (and it seems inevitable), there will be lots more 3D content to go around. This will make technologies like 3D printers and virtual reality headsets much more useful.
But that's only the most likely scenario. Let's not forget that there will be a lot of smart people creating applications for this technology, and not all of them will be interested in using 3D in obvious ways. Who knows what creative uses they will find? With any luck, we will soon see 3D technology used in ways we haven't even imagined yet.
Of course, this development becomes more meaningful when Mantis Vision's 3D scanning technology is available to everyone, not just developers. There's good news on that front, too. According to the company, though developers will have their hands on an Aquila by the end of this year, Mantis Vision's 3D tech will be available in consumer devices by mid 2015. That means your next phone or tablet may very well be a powerful and flexible 3D scanner, too.