The problem with machine vision is that the cameras are two-dimensional recorders of three-dimensional scenes. Objects in an image may be obscured by lighting, occluded by obstacles or camouflaged by similar colors in the background. Sophisticated software can sometimes piece together objects from subtle cues, such as when two camera positions are used to reveal parallax. But such algorithms take time to run, making them inappropriate for real-time applications, like automobile collision avoidance.
Now one company claims to have solved the problem with a real-time 3-D camera that uses pixel-level hardware to reveal the distance to any object in any scene, regardless of lighting, occlusion or blending. By integrating 3-D hardware into its SunShield CMOS 3-D time-of-flight imaging sensors, Canesta Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) says it enables machine vision cameras that perceive objects, rather than just sense images, in a scene.
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