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3D dental scanner wins VISION Award 2011

09 Nov 2011

Winning Austrian development team and its partner expect to launch a commercial scanner next year.

by Mike Hatcher in Stuttgart
A prototype scanner for ‘digital dentistry’, a fast-growing new field enabled by innovative optical technologies, has won the VISION Award 2011, a prize that recognizes new developments in the field of applied image processing.

Manfred Gruber, head of the Austrian Institute of Technology’s “safe and autonomous systems” business unit, accepted the award and the prize of €5000 at the annual VISION trade fair taking place in Stuttgart, Germany, this week.

The scanner, developed at AIT and being commercialized by the Klagenfurt-based start-up company a.tron3D, is based on a continuous blue LED source and a pair of tiny cameras more typically used in mobile handsets, and generates a three-dimensional image of a full set of teeth in just a few minutes.

Although it isn’t the first such optical scanner for such applications, it is, according to AIT and a.tron3D, the smallest and lightest. Resembling a toothbrush and directly compatible with conventional dental tools, it is around half the size of similar tools already commercialized by the likes of 3M and US-based Cadent (now part of Align Technology).

The tools are all used to produce dental impressions without the need for the uncomfortable and time-consuming standard method, which requires a patient to bite on silicone material before a mould of the impression is made.

The AIT-developed real-time 3D scanner relies on a miniaturized light projection system and advanced algorithms to produce the digital impression quickly, while blue light is used as it gives a better spectral response than longer wavelengths: AIT says that the technique would not be effective with red wavelengths, for example.

Advanced prototype
a.tron3D was founded in 2010 by dental laboratory owner Horst Koinig, who first came across AIT’s development of 3D scanning technology at the same VISION trade show around five years ago. The company’s “bluescan-1” product is currently at the advanced prototype stage, and set for commercialization and a manufacturing ramp next year. The company is also working on 3D face scanner using the same AIT technology, which could aid plastic surgeons with procedures such as facial reconstructive surgery.

As well as being smaller and cheaper than its competitors, the miniaturized dental scanner ports directly to a standard USB connection and the 3D models produced can be sent to any dental laboratory in the world for the subsequent mould and impression production.

Digital dentistry is expected to become a significant market in the next few years, providing a new opportunity for suppliers of various optical components required in different types of optical scanner systems. For example Israel-based Ophir Optronics, now a part of Newport Corporation, has a division (Optimet) that has developed a dental scanner based on a laser-based conoscopic holography system.

• VISION 2011 runs 7-10 November in Stuttgart, Germany. The VISION 2011 Award is sponsored by imaging and machine vision magazine.

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