IOWA STATE (US)—A high-resolution, 3-D imaging system can project perfect facsimiles of faces on a screen in real time. The result is an image that looks like a moving mask, digitally and exactly executed.

A stylized version of the technology was featured in the “House of Cards” music video by the band Radiohead, and the band U2 has inquired about using it to project images during concerts. (See how Radiohead made the video.)

Song Zhang, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, originally developed the system to image lung and chest movement for diagnosing health problems. But, the technology could have applications in face recognition, security, video games, and even entertainment.

As for Hollywood and the video game industry, Zhang says he has some work to do before he can help. The current technology requires a lot of data and memory. It’s too much to be practical for the entertainment industries right now, but Zhang and his research group are working to develop tools that don’t require as much data.

Zhang’s technology depends on some simple hardware: one camera, one projector and one personal computer. The projector sends coded patterns over a subject. The camera, positioned at a different angle than the projector, records the resulting images. The key to producing real-time, high-resolution, 3-D images is the software developed by Zhang.

“There are many technologies that come together to make this possible,” Zhang says.

Zhang and the Iowa State University Research Foundation have filed patents for the 3-D technology. The work is currently supported by university start-up funds and a U.S. Department of Justice grant.

Zhang’s also collaborating with other researchers to develop new applications for the technology. One project involves imaging a beating heart at 1,000 frames per second. Another project is developing a vision system for a robot.

Zhang says there are many more possibilities for this technology. “Hopefully,” he adds, “it will be used in many fields.”

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