Scanning eye providing robot sight

13th June 2019
Source: Fraunhofer
Posted By : Alex Lynn
Scanning eye providing robot sight

Robots must be equipped with sensors and software for three-dimensional vision in order to gain a spatial understanding of and precisely control objects in their environment. A research team at the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) has been developing and manufacturing micro-scanner mirrors, ‘MEMS’ scanners, which provide robots an ability similar to human vision needed to perceive objects and perform demanding tasks.

Fraunhofer IPMS will present its latest developments to a wide audience at the 2019 ‘Laser’ trade fair for photonics components, systems and applications being held from 24th to 27th June in Munich.

In the 17th century, the time of Isaac Newton, some scientists believed human sight required our eyes to generate and transmit light themselves. Since then, we have learned that we merely receive and interpret reflected light to see the world around us.

Fraunhofer IPMS continues to pursue the approach of a ‘scanning eye’ to support three-dimensional machine vision. For years, the research institute has been developing and manufacturing so-called MEMS scanner mirrors, used for the targeted deflection of light in applications helpful in industry, the medical field and everyday life.

These compact micro-mechanical optical components with an integrated motor are extremely robust and reliable. Dr Jan Grahmann, M.D. and his development team can now look back on successful projects with over 50 different component variants.

Current research is focused on design variants for industrial production such as scanner mirrors in automated systems. These mirrors can be installed at the end of a robotic arm, so that the robot is always ‘aware’ of what is happening in its environment, what steps it has to take and the quality of its work.

Grahmann explained: "A scanner mirror module acts as a sort of rastering eye for the robot, which can record high-resolution images in the three spatial axes. Our mirror disperses and detects light from a laser in two dimensions, and simultaneously captures depth as a third dimension by measuring the transit time of light between the object and the detector, also known as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging)."

Developers are confident that production equipment or vehicles equipped with their scanning technology can gain the reliable understanding of their environment needed in order to interact with objects in it.

Fraunhofer researchers have said that applications for environmental analysis can be further extended by introducing a broadband light source.

Grahmann said: "Tunable light sources enable completely new applications, as solid, liquid or gaseous substances can be detected by spectral information. Here, it is crucial that a light reflex is locally captured and, in addition, the reflection characteristics of different substances are recorded and analysed."

This application can be applied to monitoring pollutants in drinking water and controlling quality in the field of pharmacy, as well as in the remote monitoring of industrial plants to find leakage in pipelines or detect risk of explosion. As a result, Fraunhofer IPMS developments facilitate a new way of acquiring environmental data to make plants safer and protect personnel from contact with hazardous substances.

Fraunhofer IPMS services range from product conception and development to pilot series production - from the component to the complete system solution.

Visitors can learn more about the latest Fraunhofer IPMS developments at ‘Laser’, the trade fair for photonics components, systems and applications being held in Munich from 24th to 27th June 2019. The exhibition featuring several system demonstrators can be found at the collective Fraunhofer Society stand number 335 in Hall B3.

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