New dimensions: Jacobs researchers successfully test new 3D mapping camera
Jacobs researchers in cooperation with the University of the Azores (UAC) successfully tested a newly developed 3D camera system in the waters off the Portuguese Azores islands. The new device generates reliable high resolution 3D maps by integrating synchronized video recordings from three single cameras via intelligent image and information processing. The new system can replace standard underwater mapping methods such as sonar systems measuring sound impulses. These standard processes cannot detect vertical cliffs or complex underwater structures and only allow for the generation of coarse 2.5D maps with resolutions of about one meter.August 1, 2012
The Jacobs researchers led by Andreas Birk, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and head of the Jacobs Robotics Group, have just tested the 3D mapping camera with the help of scientific divers from the University of the Azores (UAC) in the waters off the volcanic island of Faial.
The area is characterized by complex underwater structures, steep rocks and rich marine life. The divers went on six dives of up to 60 minutes to test the practicality and the data recording and processing capabilities of the camera.
“We are extremely pleased with the results,” says Prof. Birk. “The camera system worked very smoothly. We could generate data of very high quality and the complex structures of the test area showed up incredibly well.”
The Jacobs 3D mapping camera is a fully self-contained device with onboard intelligence for high-resolution, full 3D underwater mapping. The device is equipped with three cameras recording perfectly synchronized three-dimensional videos. During the mission a fast computer integrated into the camera turns these stereo recordings into 3D scans via image processing. This process, however, only yields a 3D movie, not a useable 3D map.
Jacobs Robotics Group with significant expertise in 3D registration
The challenge is to integrate the different 3D scans taken at various unknown locations into a single consistent 3D representation of the whole environment. This requires a process called registration, which takes two consecutive 3D scans in the sequence and automatically aligns them to be spatially consistent.
The Jacobs Robotics Group has significant expertise in the registration of 3D scans and has developed the necessary algorithms. Coupling data in such a way generates high-resolution maps with a high density of information. The approach is supplemented by a technique known as Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM), which uses an uncertainty analysis and the detection of previously visited places to further increase the map’s quality.
The Jacobs 3D mapping camera is a fully self-contained device with onboard intelligence. All processing to generate the 3D maps can run on the device itself. Hence the camera is also suitable as an intelligent sensor for underwater robots. This allows the development of operator assistance functions for Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) or even online 3D mapping and planning for Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV). High-resolution 3D maps are of great interested to marine research or and oil and gas production.
The Jacobs 3D mapping camera was developed as part of the EU project MORPH (short for Marine Robotic System of Self Organizing, Logically Linked Physical Node). The project consortium consists of nine partners in addition to Jacobs University: Atlas Elektronik GmbH (Germany), Consiglio Nazionale Delle Ricerche - CNR (Italy), Institut français de recherche pour l'exploitation de la mer - Ifremer (France), Instittuto Superior Tecnico - IST (Portugal), TU Ilmenau (Germany), NATO Undersea Research Centre (NURC) (Italy), Universitat de Girona (Spain), Instituto do Mar - IMAR (Portugal).
Andreas Birk | Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science
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