Scientists and engineers are always looking for new and improved ways of doing things. Often they will develop or refine a product that provides a solution to one problem and find that what they’ve done will also have other applications.
Take time-of-flight photography for example. Electronic Engineer Dr Lee Streeter is working to improve and measure time-of-flight photography and his work will be on show at the University of Waikato stand at this year’s National Agricultural Fieldays. In 2015 Dr Streeter was awarded a $300,000 Marsden Fast Start grant to assist his research, and last year received a MBIE Smart Ideas grant of $950,000.
The cameras Dr Streeter uses are similar to ones used in gaming, but slightly more sophisticated. He works with Chronoptics in Hamilton, a company that began by using technology developed at the University of Waikato.
Chronoptics designs and develops depth-sensing solutions that allow things to see the world in 3D, says Chronoptics Founder and Director Dr Adrian Dorrington.
“We partner with companies to integrate depth-sensing into their products, working closely with them to understand the problems they are trying to solve, and engineering the best depth-sensing solution for their application.” Examples include advancing the capabilities of robotics, machine vision, automation, logistics, agritech, and AR and VR.
The cameras measure distance, tell us what things look like and where they are, says Dr Streeter. “We can see how big, how far away they are, and how flat of how round the sides are.”
Now Dr Streeter is working towards accurately measuring motion. “Movement was once a source of error, but I want to make it an essential feature – have the camera measure distance despite motion, and measure the speed and direction of that motion.”
It’s a lofty goal but he’s making progress.
These cameras have commercial applications and are increasingly being used in industry. They were used in the old Kinect V2 and are being used in Microsoft’s upcoming HoloLens, in virtual reality systems and for mapping out internal workings of automated systems.
They have potential in agriculture. On farm, and in food processing. “They could be used to measure the shape, size and movement of animals, enhancing husbandry,” says Dr Streeter. “Or in horticulture, the camera could be used for non-destructive assessment. As fruit and vegetables travel along a conveyer belt, the camera could ascertain shape and size, and speed up the sorting process, and now we’re looking to use the same technology to identify density and flaws in fruit and vegetables.
“It’s all about solving the problem of filming motion, enhancing the platform technology for multiple and various applications,” Dr Streeter says.
In another application, the technology could be used for package shape-scanning and measurement, for example at airports for luggage and cargo. “If we can resolve motion blur, we can enhance logistics by measuring packages at speed on the conveyor.”
This year’s Fieldays takes place 13 – 16 June at Mystery Creek.