Apple patent published on plenoptic cameras for manufacturing
The US Patent and Trademark Office has published a patent filed by Apple for a plenoptic camera system for manufacturing its products.
Apple aims to use plenoptic cameras – also known as light field cameras that capture information about the intensity of light in a scene – to improve its manufacturing processes, especially those relating to robotic handling.
The patent includes a method for identifying the proximity of a manufactured part by interrogating a collimated light field array reflected from the part with a plenoptic camera. Additionally, the patent describes a method for generating a composite image of a moving part using a light field array, as well as capturing 3D images and using image data for robot guidance.
A plenoptic camera contains a microlens array to give a number of views of a scene. Multiple objects at different distances from the camera can be captured and, depending on the focus information within the light field array, geometric properties can be calculated. A collimated laser shining an array of light points on the part, and combined with the plenoptic camera, gives data on the orientation, surface geometry and quality of the part. This is then used to guide robot pick-and-place applications.
The patent was filed in September 2014. It states that often many cameras are required for a robot to receive accurate information on the part. In addition, the patent says that manufacturing lines can often be forced to stop during image capture. This plenoptic camera system is designed to improve these aspects of manufacturing.