Video camera with per-pixel rangefinding

Retroactively posted March 18, 2005

I learned a new term today, "photonic mixer device".

This is a technology developed in Germany, that attempts to use optical range-finding to get depth information for each pixel in a video image. It illuminates the scene with LEDs modulated in the MHz-GHz range, and then does some fancy phase-detection mixing to pick up the speed-of-light delay in the light reflected from the objects in the field of view.

The range is limited somewhat by the reach of your illumination, but they are quoting centimeter-ish accuracy with an effective range of ~6m, at usual video frame rates. Products seem to be available, though the usual "if you have to ask how much, you can't afford it" caveats probably apply.

This was referenced in a story about Audi looking into this for doing detection of obstacles in the road, to bypass problems in object recognition and just use "something in front at close range!" data.