MEMS technology to improve robot vision

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Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) in Dresden have developed a compact scanning technology, named LinScan, for time of flight (ToF) telemeter systems.

The microelectromechanical system (MEMS) scan technology was developed as part of a European joint research project, Taco, which has recently concluded and resulted in a prototype 3D imaging system for robot guidance.

The camera system containing the MEMS device can image objects at a high resolution, similar to human vision, without having to increase the volume of data. 

3D camera systems equipped with LinScan could enable future generations of robots to search their surroundings for objects at low resolution, and then to target the objects they are looking for at a higher accuracy. The robot would work with a relatively small volume of data, but would still be able to gain a better understanding of its surroundings.

The MEMS device can differentiate between colours and brightness, judge distances, identify objects and movements within the field of view, all in a matter of seconds.

Because robots lack spatial information resolved in real-time or the necessary focus for artificial 3D sensing, or because too much image information is recorded to be processed quickly enough to be translated into actions, it has only been possible to develop relatively rudimentary robots up until now. These are only able to perform services such as cleaning, building, servicing, security or personal care tasks.

The Taco system uses an optical scanner with five synchronously operated LinScan mirrors from Fraunhofer IPMS. The MEMS scanner array produces the necessary receiving aperture for the Time of Flight (ToF) telemeter system of effectively 5mm. It was designed for an adaptive 3D camera system with an optical scanning range of at least 40° x 60°, 1MVoxel/s measuring rate of the ToF telemeter system with a 3mm measuring uncertainty at a measuring distance of 7.5m. The quasi-static drive of the microscanner allows a line-by-line image formation with a variable refresh rate of less than 1 to 100Hz.

The Taco prototype will be presented at Photonics West, 4-6 February, at the Fraunhofer IPMS booth.

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