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updated 5/4/2011 11:19:27 AM ET 2011-05-04T15:19:27

Leave it to an iPhone app developer to turn a tool that cost hundreds of dollars a year ago into something that can now be done with a 99-cent app.

The app Trimensional -- created by Grant Schindler, a research scientist at Georgia Tech's College of Computing -- allows users with an iPhone 4, iPad 2 or recent iPod Touch to take 3-D scans of faces or other objects and share them via e-mail.

Trimensional works by using the iPhone's screen to shine four different lighting patterns on the subject while also using the device's front-facing camera to snap photos. It produces a full 3-D model that you can zoom into, pan around and view from any angle.

The program uses a technique that was originally designed in the 1980s, but required an expensive setup of lights, a still model and a lot of time. However, the Trimensional app works by taking every pixel and asking the same question using four different lighting conditions.

"If I take a scan of my face, the app asks 'what does the image look like if I shine the light from the left side, what does it look like from the right side,' and so on. There's one three-dimensional answer per pixel, and combining all those answers results in the full 3-D model," Schindler explained in a statement.

In the first version of the app, which was released in January, users were able to send still images of their scans via e-mail. The latest update, which is now available, allows the app to stitch different views of a model together into a movie or an animated gif and e-mail.

In the future, Schindler said he imagines people being able to do more with 3-D models.

"Once we get scanners in everyone's hands, you should be able to use these images for any use you can think of, replicating physical objects by sending your scans to a 3-D printer, or creating a perfect digital substitute to take your video calls when you’re not looking your best," said Schindler.

"Or you could put it on your 'World of Warcraft' character, or use it in other games."

Schindler is now working on a version of the app for the Android operating system.

© 2012 TechNewsDaily

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