Mitsubishi Electric ultimately won permission from China to use the same technology, and the experience could have bolstered its decision to pursue a deal with the Chinese company. So why did it take them 17 years to detect that the U.S. was using a 3D-printed stereo system?
To be clear, 3D-printing of 3D-scanned images is not new. Among a number of examples, Harvard professor Trevor Kossow has 3D-printed curved metal objects with a single piece of the desired material, which he uses to craft cufflinks. (The technology, called “virtual welding,” is not actually new, just hard to find examples of.) Researchers at one Indiana University lab 3D-printed plastic golf balls using a scanning technology called computed tomography (CT).
The key is that it is impossible to fool the system by just scanning an image on a 3D printer at a high enough resolution to detect subtle details. “It’s like a photo negative photo,” said Dr. Andrew Olson, an engineering professor at the University of California at San Diego who is writing a paper about the technique. (Dr. Olson used the same system in conjunction with an exercise bike in 2013.)
In other words, you would need high-resolution imaging all through the area under 3D-printed scan. (Those being ultra high-resolution monitors, since imaging is very fast and happens in real time.) The trade-off is that the sophisticated scanning becomes a large computational task that requires a massive number of programmers. The CTSis also only shows a handful of facts, something a generation of mobile phone operators are already aware of.
It is a luxury that’s now becoming available, with the high-end drones and 3D-printing (nano-additive manufacturing, as it is known). And the cheaper competitors such as 3D-printing technology as an affordable practice. But for universities and research labs, they still need to spend significant resources on a CTSis. Harvard, for example, already has its own scanner designed with the expertise of a team from the NanoFidelity Institute, which the school received.
It has taken other researchers a decade or more to learn to use CTSis. Liu Shen, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Material Science and Engineering Center, is among those who developed it. He has been using the CTSis to scan materials such as thin LCD screens in the hopes of creating printable circuits.
Researchers in the MIT Materials Group, Mr. Shen says, first used 3D scanners to shape metals with high resolution, and then decoded the results.