3D camera helps prevent accidents at home

Elderly people living without assistance could be saved from potentially dangerous situations such as accidental falls with a new home monitoring camera that films scenes in 3D.

This is one of the potential applications being proposed for a 3D camera developed by engineers in the SOI (integrated optical sensors) research unit of the Fondazione Bruno Kessler (FBK) technology foundation in Trento, Italy.

A patented prototype of the camera incorporates a light-capturing sensor with a 10-micrometre pixel – currently the smallest in existence in this field. This provides the prototype with the capacity to capture images with the largest quantity of details possible.

While digital cameras currently available on the market provide only a 2D projection of the scene to be shot, the FBK camera also recovers the third dimension. The device illuminates a scene with ultra-short laser light pulses (in the order of a few billionths of a second) that ‘hit’ subjects being shot and then return to the starting point where they are detected by a micro sensor known as a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS).

The CMOS sensor is capable of computing the distance of the various subjects – the third dimension – making it possible, therefore, to approach the stereoscopic vision of humans.

It is claimed that the FBK researchers are among the first to have created a sensor of this kind using standard CMOS technology, the same used for making microprocessors and most electronic components. This, according to the researchers, delivers savings in production costs.

Pictured is a prototype of the 3D vision system developed by SOI-FBK researchers

The researchers are unveiling a prototype of the camera this week in Eindhoven at a scientific conference on European Union project Netcarity, which seeks to develop technologies and services for the ageing European society.

It is envisioned that this camera could be used to monitor the homes of elderly people living alone or without assistance and detect dangerous situations such as accidental falls.

Other applications include next-generation video games. With the 3D vision system’s ability to directly ‘read’ the players’ movements, players could freely move about in the camera’s field of vision, simulating a sports challenge or a game without the need to hold or wear a device that transmits the player’s movements to the computer.

The researchers also believe that the camera could be applied to intelligent navigation and interaction systems to be used as sophisticated electronic guides inside museums, among other things.