Longhorns Invent 3-D Camera—and Demo It For Obama

It’s not every day you get to show your business concept to the president of the United States. But that’s exactly what two UT engineering students did last week.

Longhorns Invent 3-D Camera—and Demo it for President Obama

Demonstrating their handheld camera that can capture appearance, 3-D shape, and motion, graduate student Chris Slaughter, BS ’10, and senior Albert Rondan impressed President Obama during his visit to an Austin startup incubator last week.

The president watched as the students showed off their tablet-shaped camera, the Lynx A. As the user walks it around an object, such as a person’s head, the camera swiftly scans not only appearance but also contours. The file it creates can go to a 3-D printer, which can then print out a statuelike model.

The Lynx A can also map out rooms and capture human motion by translating a moving person into an animated stick figure. All these processes have traditionally been onerous—for example, a room scan can often take weeks, and motion capture is generally done over hours to days in rented studios. The Lynx A does them anywhere and in seconds.

The camera was born at Lynx Laboratories, a startup nurtured at the Longhorn Startup program and the Austin Technology Incubator. It was funded by the National Science Foundation and a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. Founder and CEO Slaughter began designing the camera in his first year of graduate school.

“There are all these great enabling technologies out there,” Slaughter says, “[but] one of the things [they] can’t do is see very well.” He and his fellow entrepreneurs wrote new software using machine-learning strategies that simplified and sped up existing image-capture processes.

At $3,000, the Lynx A is much cheaper than competitors’ laser-based cameras, which can cost more than $70,000. The camera can be used to detect tiny variations in manufactured parts. Its quick renderings of indoor spaces can help in architectural and visual-effects planning. And its rapid motion-capture can simplify the process of building animated characters, such as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films.

In terms of cost and time, UT professor of innovation Bob Metcalfe—a Longhorn Startup founder and faculty mentor who appeared in their Kickstarter video—says, “they’ve made a breakthrough here.”

Located on the Drag, Longhorn Startup works with students and faculty to pitch an idea, start a company, and get a message out. “It’s my goal to have our entrepreneurs as celebrated as our athletes,” Metcalfe says, “[and] to have students turn pro before they graduate.”

Slaughter likens the program to a boot camp. “We had the idea and the technology already developed, but we had a lot of stuff to learn, [like] sales, marketing, corporate structure, and law,” he explains.

Along with the students of Hoot.Me, another successful startup, Lynx Laboratories also showed off its camera to the UT Board of Regents’ Technology Transfer and Research Committee on Thursday. According to Metcalfe, the regents were “wonderfully appreciative.” (President Obama, for his part, “made a ‘Not Bad’ face,” according to a company tweet.)

Referring to the University’s motto, “What starts here changes the world,” Metcalfe says Longhorn Startup’s effort to foster student and professional startups is “our approach to changing the world.”

With a Kickstarter campaign that came in at 175 percent of its goal, and camera orders rolling in, Lynx may be poised to do just that.

A 3-D printed object whose shape was captured using the Lynx A.

Courtesy Lynx Laboratories.


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