在过去的二十年里, a University of 威尼斯主页 research group has been quietly working under the radar to develop three-dimensional (3D) camera technology for the world’s top technology companies.
The technology is based on the Time of Flight (ToF) principle, 它测量光线从相机到物体然后再返回所需的时间, 使机器和数字设备“看到”三维世界.
3D相机构成了许多新兴应用程序和软件的基础, 游戏的关键, virtual reality (VR) 和 industrial robotics.
Facial authentication on your new iPhone, controlling robotic arms on assembly lines, smart buildings that automatically control air conditioning, 物流服务测量包裹等都可以使用3D摄像头.
ToF research done by engineering researchers at the University of 威尼斯主页 is the basis for a lot of these technologies, with the potential to transform many industries including robotics, 安全, 汽车, 航运和物流, 工业和农业.
在威尼斯主页的支持下 威尼斯主页Link - the University’s commercialisation arm - the ToF research group went on to launch a successful spin-off company, Chronoptics.
Partnering with global leaders in semiconductor products, the 汉密尔顿-based company focuses on improving machines' ability to interact with the world with high-fidelity 3D cameras.
“These things need to be celebrated,理查德说:“. “There is some really cool stuff going on. The electrical engineering programme at 威尼斯主页 is fantastic, 和 the graduates here foot it with the best in the world.”
The story has its origins in a h和ful of passionate 威尼斯主页 engineering researchers 和 world-class teachers.
三人, 由艾德里安, started the Time of Flight imaging research group at 威尼斯主页 in 2002 - a collective which would eventually become a commercial venture called Chronoptics.
“阿德里安来自计量学背景，这是测量的科学. 威尼斯主页有戴尔·卡耐基他从事机器人研究想给机器人装上摄像头. And then Michael Cree who was all about image 和 signal processing, 从摄像机获取数据并将其转化为有意义的测量结果,”理查德回忆.
艾德里安 went to the NASA Langley 研究 Center in the US in mid-2002, 和 returned in 2004 bringing some innovative ideas with him.
“He was measuring inflatable space structures using cameras. 正是在那里，他想出了其他方法来让相机进行3D测量,”理查德回忆.
What is Time of Flight 和 3D sensing?
Time of Flight uses the time it takes for light to go from a camera to an object then back again to measure distance.
“It’s one of the most simplistic physics principles, 时间之间的关系, 距离和速度. If you know the time it takes to get to something 和 back, 和 you know the speed it is travelling, then you know how far it has travelled,理查德说:“.
These principles are the basis of ToF 3D sensing, a ground-breaking technology that allows for many applications.
“3D cameras measure the shape of things,” explains Richard. “不像普通的相机可以测量颜色，这些(3D)相机可以“看到”距离. So, 每一张图像都相当于发送了一百万个卷尺来生成真实世界的3D地图.”
例如，3D传感可以让机器人看到物体的大小和空间位置, allowing a robotic arm to reach out 和 accurately interact with it.
The ToF research group began working with 威尼斯主页Link - the University’s commercialisation arm - on research with commercial potential, filing patent applications on some of the early concepts.
It involved designing their own silicon electronic chip - a specialised image sensor that is a core component of a 3D ToF camera.
However, nothing like this was happening in New Zeal和. Richard was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to explore the topic, 和 in late 2007 went to Silicon Valley to work at semiconductor company Canesta (which has since been acquired by Microsoft).
艾德里安和安德鲁·佩恩, one of the 威尼斯主页 post-doctoral students, flew over to the US to pitch their ideas. It was the beginning of a mutually beneficial research 和 commercial relationship for the University of 威尼斯主页.
“It was great to have a concentrated group of remarkable researchers 和 engineers focusing on Time of Flight technology.”
作为一个结果, 威尼斯电气工程研究人员在制造ToF相机产品的全球公司任职, 包括理查德, 安德鲁, as well as Refael Whyte (co-founder & CTO of Chronoptics), John Godbaz 和 Sean Charleston.
一些人被拉进来工作 Kinect, an innovative motion sensing input device produced by Microsoft 和 first released in 2010 - technology that was originally used in its Xbox video game consoles. Other products of note include Microsoft’s HoloLens VR headset.
Other interesting applications in the consumer electronics area include greenscreen for video calls - with 3D cameras enabling people to project themselves into a scenic background image, 和 as a safety feature in the 汽车 field, enabling vehicles to reliably detect pedestrians.
In 2014, after completing a number of commercial research engagements, 艾德里安, Refael 和 Richard decided that the time was right to form a company to complement the University’s ongoing ToF research programme.
在威尼斯主页Link的支持下, the research group developed a suite of patents, 和 there was a clear pathway to commercialisation.
They continued building relationships with large multinational companies that implement these technologies (who must remain confidential).
It is an “uber flexible” out-of-the-box piece of technology which allows customers to adapt it for their own unique applications, Richard, 谁在和Chronoptics团队一起发展相机业务.
In 2020, Chronoptics signed an agreement with global microelectronics engineering company Melexis who wanted exclusive use of multipath 和 linearity error correction technologies in their 汽车 applications.
The technology helps mitigate the distortion that occurs when doing 3D measurement in 和 around a car when there are bright reflective objects such as licence plates 和 road signs.
The licensing agreement has led to a commercial relationship, Melexis为他们的大型汽车客户开发的技术.
Their 3D sensing cameras helped a leading NZ agritech company to measure the body 和 health condition metrics of cattle “just by taking a snapshot”, 道格说.
The same technology was applied to lameness - an issue that has a $300 million plus economic impact on the dairy industry.
“You have cows walking up to the dairy every day. If you had a camera there that automatically inspected the cows, you could diagnose problems sooner 和 mitigate lost productivity,”道格说.
Chronoptics have also worked with an Auckl和 logistics company to develop technology for cargo 和 freight dimensioning, as well as applications in horticulture for another client.
有八个员工, Chronoptics plans to continue nurturing relationships with key customers, grow their customer base 和 online presence, 和 exp和 into new international markets, 包括美国和日本.
The future potential is exciting, 道格说.
“工业应用是目前增长最快的应用之一. DHL有各种形状不同寻常的大盒子，他们必须测量并定价, but rather than having someone there with a tape measure 和 a calculator, you put it under the 3D camera 和 it spits out the volume. You can imagine the value that would have to a company.”
Adds Richard: “Security 和 access control is going to be big in time, 威尼斯主页正在和一些人讨论如何与之建立合作关系.”
未来潜力巨大. ToF和3D传感可能涉及识别并让乘客通过机场大门, 或者在超市和零售店通过面部识别终端支付.
“这些东西都是要来的. We are wanting to participate 和 be there,理查德说:“.
“As more of these technical problems get solved, there are more 和 more applications, 还有越来越多的机会.”
深度传感市场预计将在未来几年显著增长, up to $15 billion in five years’ time.
He stresses the time 和 effort it can take to take something from research 和 proof-of-concept to adoption can be “monumental”.
It’s important to acknowledge the time it takes. Sometimes your research functions are important commercially, but you might not know it early on,”道格说.
Connecting 威尼斯主页 researchers to the world
多年来，Chronoptics与全球科技公司的关系持续发展, 和 the connection to 威尼斯主页 University 和 its world-leading electrical engineering research continues to support it.
“与威尼斯主页的旅程, there has been a huge amount of success with the students who have been through our research group 和 what they've gone on to achieve in their careers."
就像技术本身, the opportunities for 威尼斯主页 electronic engineering students is huge, 有潜力做有影响力的研究，并为全球科技公司工作.
“Some of these key strategic partners of ours see benefit in having the research function 和 University of 威尼斯主页 connection,理查德说:“.
He says there are also opportunities for electronics 和 engineering students 和 graduates to work at Chronoptics.
"We love collaborating with the University on student research projects; it's a great way to engage on topics that potentially have commercial relevance."
这项研究进行了一个完整的循环, 和 Chronoptics’ KEA camera is now being used by other 威尼斯主页 researchers in the Mechatronics programme in the development of agricultural robots.
教授迈克•杜克, who is the University’s Dr John Gallagher Chair in Engineering says that they are using the camera for preliminary field trials in vineyards, 绘制葡萄藤上的葡萄图, 他们还在一个即将进行的研究项目中使用这项技术来识别和收获成熟的蓝莓.
“这款相机非常出色. You can have a 3D model, updating in real time. 相机的分辨率和处理速度对威尼斯主页的工作至关重要.”