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3D camera packs fully functioning built-in computer

26 Oct 2015  | Julien Happich

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Orbbec, a Seattle-based start-up founded in 2013, is in the process of rounding up an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign to deliver what it boasts as the first 3D-camera with a fully functioning built-in computer. According to the company, the device not only performs 3D image acquisition, but also real-time 3D mapping together with other video processing or robotic control functions, thus doubling as the main application's brain.

The Orbbec Persee, as it is called, relies on the projection of a structured light dot pattern using an infrared laser and a proprietary diffraction grating, and detection through an SXGA infrared CMOS sensor (1280x1024pixels). The startup also developed a proprietary chip to do the triangulation, depth extraction and optionally 3D mapping over the colour image frames that are recorded by an RGB camera sensor.

3D camera

Depth extraction is performed at 30fps at XSGA resolution for high accuracy (0.5cm at a distance of 2m, with a range up to 8m) and then converted to VGA (640x480 pixels) depth image frames for faster data transfers through USB.

Any other video processing functions or application control after that would be carried out by the built-in computer featuring a 600MHz Mali-T7 GPU, a quad-core Cortex A17 CPU running at up to 1.8GHz, and 2GB of DDR3 RAM completed by an integrated SD Card reader for storage memory.

Typically in robotics, video processing (such as face recognition, eye tracking) would be performed on the RGB frames, separately from the depth sensing rendered in grey scale for navigation or gesture interfacing.

The startup's product line-up includes the Persee (the 3D-camera featuring a computer on-board) that can double as the main processing unit of any application relying on 3D vision, and two other offerings, the Astra and Astra Pro, which are two flavours of standalone 3D cameras, the former delivering a VGA colour output while the latter boasts a 720p HD colour camera and can stream its data via USB 2.0.

In fact, the Astra was launched some months ago with the funding of private angel investors, but the Indiegogo campaign for the Persee and Astra Pro is more wide ranging, appealing to both business partners and consumers alike.

At the core of all three devices lay the company's chip, something Orbbec is not keen sharing too much about.

"If one wants to process 1280x1024 (SXGA) structured light infrared image into depth, it takes several hours per frame to do this on a high-end desktop-class CPU and C++ implementation. On a high-end desktop-class CPU and a highly-optimised OpenMP & SSE3 implementation, it takes three to five seconds per frame. With the 3D ASIC chip the Orbbec team developed, it takes only a few nanoseconds per frame.

Joshua Blake

Joshua Blake, Orbbec's co-founder and VP of Engineering, holding the Persee.

In the complete Astra 3D camera, we easily calculate SXGA depth at 30fps (based upon the IR CMOS capability), then downscale the depth image to VGA for transmission across the USB 2.0 connection."

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