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3-D Sensors Bring Depth Discernment to Embedded Vision Designs

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By Michael Brading
Automotive and Industrial Business Unit Chief Technology Officer, Aptina Imaging

Kenneth Salsman
Director of New Technology, Aptina Imaging

Manjunath Somayaji
Staff Imaging Scientist, Aptina Imaging

Brian Dipert
Editor-in-Chief, Embedded Vision Alliance
Senior Analyst, BDTI

Tim Droz
Vice President, US Operations, SoftKinetic

Daniël Van Nieuwenhove
Chief Technical Officer, SoftKinetic

Pedro Gelabert
Senior Member of the Technical Staff and Systems Engineer, Texas Instruments
This article is an expanded version of one originally published at EE Times' Design Line. It is reprinted here with the permission of EE Times.

The ability to sense objects in three dimensions can deliver both significant new and significantly enhanced capabilities to vision system designs. Several depth sensor technology alternatives exist to implement this potential, however, each with strengths, shortcomings and common use cases.

The term "embedded vision" refers to the use of computer vision in embedded systems, mobile devices, PCs and the cloud. Stated another way, "embedded vision" refers to systems that extract meaning from visual inputs. Historically, such image analysis technology has typically only been found in complex, expensive systems, such as military equipment, industrial robots and quality-control inspection systems for manufacturing. However, cost, performance and power consumption advances in digital integrated circuits such as processors, memory devices and image sensors are now paving the way for the proliferation of embedded vision into high-volume applications.

With a few notable exceptions, such as Microsoft's Kinect game console and computer peripheral, the bulk of today's embedded vision system designs employ 2-D image sensors. 2-D sensors enable a tremendous breadth and depth of vision capabilities. However, their inability to discern an object's distance from the sensor can...