Ultra-compact camera delivers 3D information

Ultra-compact camera delivers 3D information

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

Actually, it is not one camera but 16 – but all integrated a polycrystalline wafer. The arrangement as an array of 16 slightly displaced cameras captures the scene from likewise displaced perspectives, enabling a downstream logic to compute the depth information using the principles of light-field photography. Because such calculations are very high-intensity, an efficient processor is embedded directly into the periphery of the camera matrix to enable real-time applications, explains Stephan Voltz, CEO of consortium member ams Sensors Germany which provides the sensor for the camera.

The algorithms for the depth-image calculations are currently developed at the Augmented Vision research department at the DFKI within the DAKARA R&D project. A requirement within this project is also the development of a downstream processor integrated in the camera that can perform the necessary computations in real-time. In addition, the chip to be developed will also contain several applications that can make use of the images provided by the camera.

Providing color and depth information, the camera will enable many innovative applications, said professor Didier Stricker who oversees the DFKI’s Augmented Vision research department. The camera’s extremely compact size will make it possible to integrate it into tiny components that can be used as non-contact sensors.

The camera matrix is reconfigurable. As a result, a more specific layout can also be used, depending on the application – for example a different arrangement of the camera matrix in L-shape. The depth image computation can also be adapted to specific requirements for the depth information.

Cameras that provide depth information already exist. However, these cameras need to emit light to calculate the depth (Time-of-flight principle). Disadvantages are a high energy consumption, large size and high costs. Other passive systems have a much lower energy consumption, but are still in the research stage and generally have large shapes and low image rates.

“The DAKARA camera matrix will be the first passive system to provide both color and depth images in real-time, with high image rates, adaptive features, low energy consumption and a very compact design,” promises Oliver Wasenmüller, DFKI project manager and Co-initiator of the project.

Two application scenarios are used to examine and demonstrate the development: A rear-view camera from the partner Adasens Automotive GmbH will enable users to better interpret the surroundings behind the car. As a result, finer structures, such as curbsides or posts, can be detected during automated parking. In addition, the system is designed to recognize people and send warning signals if an impact hazard is detected.

Within the scope of the DAKARA project, partner Bosch Rexroth and DFKI’s Innovative Factory Systems research department are working on yet another application for such a camera: The device will assist workers in manual assembly processes. The camera matrix captures objects as well as the hands of the worker. Through the algorithms, it is possible to unambiguously distinguish the hands from the workpiece which seems to be easy, but is not a trivial task for a machine. In this application, the depth information of the DAKARA camera is intended to make this separation easier and more precise.

In the next three years, the new camera matrix is to be designed, developed and extensively tested in the mentioned scenarios. A first prototype is to be realized by late summer 2018.

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3D image sensor uses time-of-flight method


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