Measuring motion factors in time-of-flight photography

9 November 2015

Lee Streeter (7) web
Dr Lee Streeter is researching time-flight photography to improve motion measurement. It's his purple hand you can see on the computer screen.

When Dr Lee Streeter heard he’d won a Marsden grant to continue his time-of-flight photography research, he took a day’s leave to celebrate.

“I kept going onto the Royal Society website, just to check my name was really there," he says.

Dr Streeter, an electronic engineer and teaching fellow at the University of Waikato, was awarded $300,000 Marsden Fast Start grant over three years to work on improving and even measuring motion factors in time-flight photography.

Fast Start grants are awarded to young and emergent researchers. Dr Streeter is one of a few people around the world to be researching time-of-flight range imaging cameras and looking for ways to improve the data these cameras provide.

“These cameras are used in gaming, such as Xbox One, and more sophisticated cameras are used at industrial level, important to show extra depth of information, telling us what things look like and where they are. They provide important information about the shape of objects. We can see how big, how far away they are, and how flat or how round the sides are,” Dr Streeter says.

Time-of-flight cameras have been designed to measure the distance within static scenes but can’t interpret scenes with complicated motion. “So I’m going to try to re-engineer a new camera concept that will transform complex motion from a source of error to an essential feature – trying to measure distance despite motion, and measure the speed and direction of motion.”

Dr Streeter says time-of-flight imaging shares a lot of similarities with radar, but there are also big differences.“I’ll be drawing on existing technologies and combine them with some ideas I’ve had. I’m well aware what I’m setting out to do is a lofty goal but this grant gives me time think really deeply about this problem, to pull in ideas from other fields and to come up with new ones.”

He says he’s fortunate to have a like-minded colleague in Dr Gordon Wetzstein at Stanford University in the United States who’ll be his associate investigator on the project.

“But none of this would have happened without the support I’ve had from staff at Waikato – Professor Ilanko, Dr Adrian Dorrington and others in the University of Waikato Chronoptics time-of-flight research group. Everything’s come together, being in the right place at the right time. I can’t wait to get on with it.”

Two other University of Waikato emerging researchers, Dr Holly Thorpe and Dr Phil Ross, also received Fast Start grants of $300,000. Dr Thorpe will examine young people’s engagement with informal sports to improve their own and others’ wellbeing in war-torn and post-disaster places. Her case studies will take in Afghanistan, Gaza, Christchurch and New Orleans. Dr Ross will be combining archaeology and molecular ecology with Matauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) to gain a better understanding of how early Māori manipulated their marine environment.

Computer Scientist Associate Professor Eibe Frank was awarded $410,000 to investigate alternative and more user-friendly approaches to deep learning. The Marsden Fund is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand and supports excellence in leading-edge research.