Bat-inspired ultrasound 3D mapping could equip drones

Bat-inspired ultrasound 3D mapping could equip drones

Technology News |
By Rich Pell

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.

The algorithms took just over three years to develop before the two entrepreneurs were able to showcase a proof-of-concept in back in March 2015.

Bahnemann sees uses cases not only in robotics to navigate through complex 3D environments, but also for motion detection and gesture control detection. Because the sensor module requires no optical components and is lightweight, it could substitute expensive and bulky laser and camera-based systems while drawing a mere 0.2W for operation and at a fraction of these systems’ price.

Another added benefit of ultrasounds is that it preserves privacy, the results are grey-scale and only reveal depth. Compared to cameras, the sensors are unobtrusive, yet they could be used in shopping malls for customer behaviour analysis as well as for automotive anti-collision systems.

Toposens aims to provide a software development kit during the first half of 2016 for potential application developers to integrate the 3D sensor technology into their products, with various interfaces and software applications at hand.

The company was only founded three weeks ago and is actively seeking investors to fund the industrialisation of its sensor. Further on its roadmap, the startup is also aiming to develop a long range 3D radar, capable of providing real time 3D images of the surrounding areas at distances up to about 150-300m for autonomous driving applications.

Visit Toposens at



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