A team at Northwestern University has developed an inexpensive scanner that combines some of the best attributes of single-point LiDAR and inexpensive consumer scanners, like Microsoft’s Kinect. And they did it by imitating the human eye.
“Existing structured light scanners can resolve small-scene details, even under bright sunlight, but can’t capture moving objects,” the team explains in a video. “Single-shot devices, like Microsoft’s Kinect fail to capture fine detail and only function under low ambient light, but can capture motion in real time.”
What if there were an inexpensive scanner that could capture small details in bright sunlight and handle motion? Wouldn’t that be better than a Kinect?
Well, that’s just what the team has developed with their Motion Contrast 3D Scanning camera. It works like your eye does, registering only the parts of the scan area that have changed.
Oliver Cossairt, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering discussed the idea: “If you send the same signal to your eye over and over, the neurons will actually stop firing. The neurons only fire if there is a change in your visual stimulus. We realized this principle could be really useful for a 3-D scanning system.”
So it scans with much greater speed and more precision than the Kinect. Another upside is that it works in direct sunlight, which opens up a huge number of potential uses, Cossairt says. This means you can take it outside and use it “in the wild” where the Kinect would often fail due to problems with lighting. “In order for a 3D camera to be useful,” he explained, “it has to be something you can use in everyday, normal environments. Outdoors is a part of that.”
He suggests uses from robotics to augmented reality to navigation.
It’s a surprise to me, but maybe LiDAR won’t be the 3D technology that finally brings us an affordable self-driving car.