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Swiss lab introduces omnipresent 3-D camera

A new surround 3-D camera has been developed, inspired by the eye of a common housefly.

EPFL Labs, a Lausanne, Switzerland-based facility that specializes in vision-based robots, has developed the new dome camera that can grab views from nearly all angles. Then, with a special output algorithm, the camera can construct genuine 3-D images.

The camera uses a hardware platform that can calculate the depth of each camera image and then reconstruct a 3-D visual based on how far away the various elements in the picture are located. This is far more sophisticated than today’s stereoscopic approach to 3-D used by TV.

The new camera sees everything around it simultaneously and in real time, and then reproduces the images in distortion-free 3-D. It works without mirrors or mechanical parts of any kind.

More than 100 cameras, similar to those used in mobile phones, are crowded onto a metallic hemisphere the size of an orange. Because they are so close together, their range of vision overlaps slightly.

A second, miniature prototype has been developed that is about the size of a golf ball and has 15 cameras. The user can choose to have them all work together to obtain a panoramic image that covers a 360-degree range of vision or individually to capture a particular point of view.

The cameras were designed and built at EPFL as the result of collaboration between the Signal Processing Laboratory, led by Pierre Vandergheynst, and the Microelectronic Systems Laboratory, led by Yusuf Leblebici.

“With this invention, we solved two major problems with traditional cameras: the camera angle, which is no longer limited thanks to the camera’s ability to film in 360 degrees and in real time, and the depth of field, which is no longer limiting thanks to the 3-D reconstruction,” Vandergheynst said.

Vandergheynst’s lab wrote algorithms to calculate the distance between the camera and objects being filmed to do the 3-D reconstruction in addition to the algorithms that assemble the images taken by all the different cameras into a single panoramic image. The Microelectronics Systems Laboratory developed the material and electronic apparatus that make it possible to collect and process the multigigabits of data that stream in at the rate of 30 images per second from the various cameras.