Robot learns to see

Article of 27 June 2014 

3-D camera for spatial orientation

Is there enough chocolate on every biscuit? Where are the parts on the conveyor belt? Are all the water bottles filled sufficiently? Have all the barcodes and data matrix codes been correctly applied and scanned? “In an automated production system, many procedures have to be monitored and checked. 2-D cameras with digital technology often take on a simple quality monitoring function. Their two-dimensional detection system can be used to make out the outlines of objects, for example. A piece of software compares these with a template - in this way discrepancies are detected immediately,” says Thorsten Wanner, Product Manager of Electric Automation Functions.

3-D camera for orientation in a space

If an object is expected to be recorded three-dimensionally and its location and spatial position detected, information about far away the object is must also be provided. This can be done by a 3-D image acquisition and processing system. This property is particularly important when technical assistance systems like robotic arms are supposed to help people with their work. The Bionic Handling Assistant from Festo is an assistance system of this kind. With the aid of a 3-D imaging and processing system, it could recognise and interpret its surroundings.

The technology behind the three-dimensional vision of a 3-D camera was adopted from the visual system used by living creatures. Two camera systems are installed at a certain distance to each other and record two images. A software program uses the two individual images and the distance between them to generate a three-dimensional image, from which the location and position of objects can be determined.

Bionic Handling Assistant learns to see in three dimensions

Researchers at Festo are now working as part of the joint project INSERO3D on a miniaturised 3-D camera, with which the Bionic Handling Assistant is expected to orient itself spatially in future. By this means, the Bionic Handling Assistant could get out of the way of obstacles, for example, or interact harmlessly with humans.

The challenge on the INSERO3D project is to develop a very small and lightweight 3-D camera, as the Bionic Handling Assistant has a very light design overall. “Conventional 3-D camera systems are too big to be used in the Bionic Handling Assistant. Festo's aim is a lightweight system about the size of a tennis ball, which we can easily install at the front end of the Bionic Handling Assistant,” says Daniel Kersten, project manager of INSERO3D. Festo is working on the project together with the Institute for Microelectronics Stuttgart as well as 2E Mechatronics GmbH & Co. KG and Pilz GmbH & Co. KG.

The miniaturised 3D camera is expected to help the spatial positioning of service robots and open up new applications in the interaction between humans and technology. The intention is to produce and test an initial prototype by the middle of 2015.