Four images in as many panes. Top left is a fuchsia bottle with a QR code that only shows up on the smartphone screen held above it. Top right image is A person holding a smartphone over a red wristband. The phone displays a QR code on its screen that it sees but is invisible in the visible wavelengths. Bottom left is a closeup of the red wristband in visible light and the bottom right image is the wristband in IR showing the three QR codes embedded in the object.

Fluorescent Filament Makes Object Identification Easier

QR codes are a handy way to embed information, but they aren’t exactly pretty. New work from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have a new way to produce high contrast QR codes that are invisible. [PDF]

If this sounds familiar, you may remember CSAILs previous project embedding QR codes into 3D prints via IR-transparent filament. This followup to that research increases the detection of the objects by using an IR-fluorescent filament. Another benefit of this new approach is that while the InfraredTags could be any color you wanted as long as it was black, BrightMarkers can be embedded in objects of any color since the important IR component is embedded in traditional filament instead of the other way around.

One of the more interesting applications is privacy-preserving object detection since the computer vision system only “sees” the fluorescent objects. The example given is marking a box of valuables in a home to be detected by interior cameras without recording the movements of the home’s occupants, but the possibilities certainly don’t end there, especially given the other stated application of tactile interfaces for VR or AR systems.

We’re interested to see if the researchers can figure out how to tune the filament to fluoresce in more colors to increase the information density of the codes. Now, go forth and 3D print a snake with snake in a QR code inside!

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Invisible 3D Printed Codes Make Objects Interactive

An interesting research project out of MIT shows that it’s possible to embed machine-readable labels into 3D printed objects using nothing more than an FDM printer and filament that is transparent to IR. The method is being called InfraredTags; by embedding something like a QR code or ArUco markers into an object’s structure, that label can be detected by a camera and interactive possibilities open up.

One simple proof of concept is a wireless router with its SSID embedded into the side of the device, and the password embedded into a different code on the bottom to ensure that physical access is required to obtain the password. Mundane objects can have metadata embedded into them, or provide markers for augmented reality functionality, like tracking the object in 3D.

How are the codes actually embedded? The process is straightforward with the right tools. The team used a specialty filament from vendor that looks nearly opaque in the visible spectrum, but transmits roughly 45% in IR.  The machine-readable label gets embedded within the walls of a printed object either by using a combination of IR PLA and air gaps to represent the geometry of the code, or by making a multi-material print using IR PLA and regular (non-IR transmitting) PLA. Both provide enough contrast for an IR-sensitive camera to detect the label, although the multi-material version works a little better overall. Sadly, the average mobile phone camera by itself isn’t sufficiently IR-sensitive to passively read these embedded tags, so the research used easily available cameras with no IR-blocking filters, like the Raspberry Pi NoIR.

The PDF has deeper details of the implementation for those of you who want to know more, and you can see a demonstration of a few different applications in the video, embedded below. Determining the provenance of 3D printed objects is a topic of some debate in the industry, and it’s not hard to see how technology like this could be used to covertly identify objects without compromising their appearance.

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