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Can chip vendors set the agenda for the next big thing?

Posted: 21 Jan 2016 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:virtual reality? consumer electronics? VR? fabless chip?

Etron's 3D Depth-map technology uses disparity, calculated using a stereo camera. Left and right cameras are spaced some apart, each capturing images. A comparison of left and right images serves to calculate disparity.

There's nothing new in this stereo concept. What's new is how Etron implements it on a chip.

One-upping Intel, Etron has figured out a way to run intensive depth-map computing algorithms on its 3D depth-map camera controller itself, instead of using up a host CPU's processing power. "The data size of captured images is too large to be managed by mother board CPUs," explained Etron last June during Computex, when the company discussed the company's USB 3.0 3D Depth-map controller in detail.

Etron's 3D depth-map camera controller executes parallel computational algorithms, and outputs high performance depth-map images up to VGA resolution at 60 frames per second. The camera controller chip simultaneously controls the timing and image quality of two horizontally placed HD cameras to mimic the function of human eyes in capturing 3D images or video, said the company.

Etron also made sure the controller chip synchronises and self-aligns. The company said it features "a patented timing control mechanism to synchronise the left and the right images at up to 30 frames per second." Further, it automatically aligns both left and right images in x and y directions to compensate for unavoidable manufacturing discrepancies between the dual cameras.

At CES, Lu showed off a smartphone prototype embedded with a stereo camera.

3D figurines

I recognised that Etron is going beyond Intel with its 3D depth-map technology applications when Lu started talking about 3D lifelike figurines.

Etron last year launched what the company calls the ThingCapture platform and IC.

Its goal is simple. The platform enables "easy recording of 3D objects, quick conversion to digital data points (x, y, z), and modelling into 3D objects with proprietary software and algorithms transmitted on the Internet or 3D printed into lifelike figurines," according to Etron.

Apparently, consumers can capture 3D images of their face, combine them with their favourite characters and digitise them as 3D action figures or avatars. They can use them in games or social media. Every guy, finally, can be Wonder Woman.

Samuel Hsueh

Samuel Hsueh, director of Etron's image technology centre, with little figurines of himself.

Consumers can even go a step further by actually printing those 3D images into 3D figurines. Playing with your own 3D figurines might seem to most Americans a little self-indulgent. But I was born in manga-crazy Japan, where I definitely see a market for this sort of thing.

I also see potentials in the global market for parents wanting 3D figurines of their own kids, if only to help police if a kid goes missing or is abducted, for example.

Etron is convinced that 3D figurines are "rapidly becoming a popular memory preserving approach." If this dream comes true, the company said that Etron's proprietary system will further accelerate this trend.

Lu said that Etron has absolutely no plans to become a system vendor. But by making well-designed, well thought-out prototypes, Etron believes it will inspire customers to adopt its technology.

- Junko Yoshida
??EE Times U.S.

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