Bat-inspired ultrasound 3D mapping could equip drones

December 09, 2015 // By Julien Happich
German startup Toposens has developed a lightweight and low-cost 3D sensor system that performs ultrasound echolocation and turns the acquired signal into tangible 3D scenery mapping, for either humans or robots to interpret.

Pitching as one of the eight finalist startups at EIT Digital's Cyber-Physical Systems Idea Challenge held in Paris, co-Founder and Managing Director Tobias Bahnemann attributed the tiny system a sensing range of 4 to 5 meters with a resolution down to 0.5cm, though he is confident he could reach a detection resolution down to 1mm by pushing signal processing further.

Bahnemann had brought with him a compact prototype packaged in a printed plastic enclosure only about 40x40x5mm in size. Weighing a mere 20 grams, the whole sensor solution combines a piezo-electric ultrasound emitter and three discrete piezo-electric transceivers. Signal patterns are emitted at 40kHz and the time-of-flight of all the echoes are picked up distinctively by the three transceivers, at a nanosecond-level time resolution.

"All of the hardware comes of-the-shelve", told us Bahnemann, "but the key IP resides in the clever algorithms we developed to perform a sort of reverse triangulation and translate the received signals into distance and shape attributes".

"These algorithms involve a lot of complicated Maths, yet with a simple hardware setup, we are able to acquire about 50,000 points per second", he commented, attributing the algorithms to co-founder and business partner Alexander Rudoy.