A standard camera takes flat, 2-D pictures. To get 3-D information, such as the distance to a far-away object, scientists can bounce a laser beam off the object and measure how long it takes the light to travel back to a detector.
The technique, called time-of-flight (ToF), is already used in machine vision, navigation systems for autonomous vehicles, and other applications, but many current ToF systems have a relatively short range and struggle to image objects that do not reflect laser light well. A team of Scotland-based physicists has recently tackled these limitations and reported their findings today in the Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal Optics Express.
The research team, led by Gerald Buller, a professor at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, describes a ToF imaging system that can gather high-resolution, 3-D information about objects that are typically very difficult to image, from up to a kilometer away.
The new system works by sweeping a low-power infrared laser beam rapidly over an object. It then records, pixel-by-pixel, the round-trip flight time of the photons in the beam as they bounce off the object and arrive back at the source. The system can resolve depth on the millimeter scale over long distances using a detector that can "count" individual photons.
Although other approaches can have exceptional depth resolution, the ability of the new system to image objects like items of clothing that do not easily reflect laser pulses makes it useful in a wider variety of field situations, says Heriot-Watt University Research Fellow Aongus McCarthy, the first author of the Optics Express paper.
"Our approach gives a low-power route to the depth imaging of ordinary, small targets at very long range," McCarthy says. "Whilst it is possible that other depth-ranging techniques will match or out-perform some characteristics of these measurements, this single-photon counting approach gives a unique trade-off between depth resolution, range, data-acquisition time, and laser-power levels."
The primary use of the system is likely to be scanning static, man-made targets, such as vehicles. With some modifications to the image-processing software, it could also determine their speed and direction.
One of the key characteristics of the system is the long wavelength of laser light the researchers chose. The light has a wavelength of 1,560 nanometers, meaning it is longer, or "redder," than visible light, which is only about 380-750 nanometers in wavelength. This long-wavelength light travels more easily through the atmosphere, is not drowned out by sunlight, and is safe for eyes at low power. Many previous ToF systems could not detect the extra-long wavelengths that the Scottish team's device is specially designed to sense.
The scanner is particularly good at identifying objects hidden behind clutter, such as foliage. However, it cannot render human faces, instead drawing them as dark, featureless areas. This is because at the long wavelength used by the system, human skin does not reflect back a large enough number of photons to obtain a depth measurement. However, the reflectivity of skin can change under different circumstances. "Some reports indicate that humans under duress—for example, with perspiring skin—will have significantly greater return signals," and thus should produce better images, McCarthy says.
Outside of target identification, photon-counting depth imaging could be used for a number of scientific purposes, including the remote examination of the health and volume of vegetation and the movement of rock faces, to assess potential hazards. Ultimately, McCarthy says, it could scan and image objects located as far as 10 kilometers away. "It is clear that the system would have to be miniaturized and ruggedized, but we believe that a lightweight, fully portable scanning depth imager is possible and could be a product in less than five years."
Next steps for the team include making the scanner work faster. Although the data for the high-resolution depth images can be acquired in a matter of seconds, currently it takes about five to six minutes from the onset of scanning until a depth image is created by the system. Most of that lag, McCarthy says, is due to the relatively slow processing time of the team's available computer resources. "We are working on reducing this time by using a solid-state drive and a higher specification computer, which could reduce the total time to well under a minute. In the longer term, the use of more dedicated processors will further reduce this time."
The research was funded by the United Kingdom's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Paper: "Kilometer-range, high resolution depth imaging via 1560 nm wavelength single-photon detection," A. McCarthy et al., Optics Express, Vol. 21, Issue 7, pp. 8904-8915 (2013) (link: http://www.opticsinfobase.org/oe/abstract.cfm?uri=oe-21-7-8904).
EDITOR'S NOTE: High-resolution images are available to members of the media upon request. Contact Angela Stark, firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Optics Express
Optics Express reports on new developments in all fields of optical science and technology every two weeks. The journal provides rapid publication of original, peer-reviewed papers. It is published by the Optical Society and edited by Andrew M. Weiner of Purdue University. Optics Express is an open-access journal and is available at no cost to readers online at http://www.OpticsInfoBase.org/OE.
Uniting more than 180,000 professionals from 175 countries, the Optical Society (OSA) brings together the global optics community through its programs and initiatives. Since 1916 OSA has worked to advance the common interests of the field, providing educational resources to the scientists, engineers and business leaders who work in the field by promoting the science of light and the advanced technologies made possible by optics and photonics. OSA publications, events, technical groups and programs foster optics knowledge and scientific collaboration among all those with an interest in optics and photonics. For more information, visit http://www.osa.org.
Angela Stark | EurekAlert!
Information integration and artificial intelligence for better diagnosis and therapy decisions
24.05.2017 | Fraunhofer MEVIS - Institut für Bildgestützte Medizin
World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world
18.05.2017 | RMIT University
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.05.2017 | Event News