Scientists from School of Physics and Astronomy at Glasgow University  have found a cheap way to create 3D images without using conventional digital cameras.

The system uses simple and low-cost detectors which have just one pixel to sense light instead of the millions of pixels used by digital cameras. According to scientists, these new sensors will cost “few pounds”, in comparison with the “thousands” of pounds current systems cost.

The technology is expected to be used to create much more affordable 3D images in the future, through detectors capable of “see”  frequencies beyond visible light. This technological advance could even offer new possibilities in fields like medicine and geography, by, for instance, locating oil or helping doctors find tumours.

Professor Miles Padgett , lead researcher, explained that "single-pixel detectors in four different locations are used to detect light from a data projector, which illuminates objects with a rapidly-shifting sequence of black-and-white patterns similar to crossword puzzles."

When more of the white squares of these patterns overlap with the object, the intensity of the light reflected back to the detectors is higher, Padgett said, and added that “a series of projected patterns and the reflected intensities are used in a computer algorithm to produce a 2D image."

Four sensors which contain shadows, give researchers clues about the 3D shape of the object. After combining these four images, using the technique 'shape from shade', a 3D image will be created in just few seconds.

Padgett highlighted that this technology doesn't need detailed calibration to create accurate images.