3-D Camera Captures Images at Long-Range
You can already watch 3-D movies in your living room and print 3-D objects in your basement. But the latest innovation in 3-D technology might even make it possible for you to photograph the world around you in all its tripartite glory.
Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland have developed a time-of-flight (ToF) imaging system that can gather high-resolution, 3-D information about objects from up to a kilometer away.
The system works by sweeping a low-power infrared laser beam directly over an object. It then records, pixel-by-pixel, the round-trip flight time of the light particles, or photons, in the laser beam as they bounce off the object and arrive back at the source.
ToF imaging is nothing new. It’s already used to help machines “see” the world around them. Autonomous vehicles, for example, use this type of imaging as part of their navigation systems. And the X-Box Kinect uses it to track a player’s movement. However, such systems typically have several shortcomings.
For one thing, it’s difficult for ToF imagers to process anything but objects at short-range. The new system, however, was designed specifically to deal with this issue. Using a detector that can count individual photons as they bounce off of objects, the system can create 3-D images of small objects at long range.
Another issue with prior ToF scanners was their inability to capture objects that didn’t reflect a large amount of laser light. The Heriot-Watt imager is particularly good at identifying even obscured objects, such as rocks covered by foliage.
Researchers have mostly used the system to create three-dimensional images of static, man-made targets, such as vehicles. But they believe it could be also be effective at scanning other, natural objects, such as rock faces and hard-to-access vegetation, which would make it useful to scientists doing fieldwork or surveyors assessing geological formations.
While this new technology is still in development, researchers believe that a smaller, more rugged version of their 3-D camera could be available for purchase within five years.