stellar for 3D system|
By Joe Bauman
Deseret Morning News
LOGAN — When NASA's Mars rover Opportunity drove toward a
rocky outcrop last week, it stopped a foot and a half short. But if it
had been equipped with a new 3D imaging system patented by Utah State
University, it would not have been
an inch short of its goal.
Not that it could have carried the invention, as it
is still being developed for commercial uses. Notice of the patent was
printed in the Jan. 11 Deseret Morning News:
"3D multispectral lidar. Robert Taylor Pack, Logan; Frederick Brent Pack, Waipahu, Hawaii. Assigned to Utah State University, North Logan. . . . Patent No. 6,664,529."
On Friday, the newspaper interviewed the first-listed Pack, who is a research associate professor in civil and environmental engineering and an engineer with USU's Space Dynamics Laboratory.
The second Pack is his brother Brent, a retired electrical engineer who lives in Waipahu, Hawaii, and worked for years with the Air Force.
"We put our heads together and figured out a way to solve this problem," Bob Pack said. The problem was integrating contour readings made by laser, with visual imagery.
A group of faculty members and students at USU, part of the Center for Advanced Imaging LADAR (laser detection and ranging) helped with the project.
"The biggest problem is getting the hardware to cooperate," he said.
"It involves mechanical engineering, electrical
engineering, geomatics (surveying) engineering, computer graphics, data
Not only is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory interested
in the device for future Mars exploration, JPL is even considering it
for much more distant space adventures. The lab is seeking information
to design an orbiter to study Europa, a
moon of Jupiter that could host a frozen-over ocean.
"We could actually be imaging (Europa's) surface from a satellite," said Pack, interviewed Friday in the USU Engineering Laboratory Building.
Pack has been working on the project for eight years and is ready to make it public, now that the patent has been awarded.
The device also has military uses. And it can be employed with video games, movies and robotics.
The camera records the looks of a scene and the exact
distance to objects in the view; it can take numerous such images; and
it can integrate them all in real time.
showed off how the system works by displaying on a computer a photo
that he and his associates took at a canyon containing petroglyphs, at
China Lake Test Range, Calif. The area is part of the Naval Air Warfare
Center, and the
petroglyphs make up a national heritage site, so they needed special
permission to hike there.
With a mouse click, the computer displayed a view of the canyon. Another click and a second photo was added.
"There's another scene of the same area, slight
overlap," he said, adding a third view. "We just walked up the canyon a
bit and pointed back and took another shot."
Because distances to different parts of the scene
were known to the computer, the system knew exactly how all the
elements fit together. It immediately integrated them into one coherent
scene and knew how the parts were related.
used his mouse to drag the viewpoint to a different angle, a grid of
distance information appeared. The perspective shifted as he moved the
mouse. When he released the clicker, the image showed the canyon in
full color as if
it were being viewed in person — but from the new perspective.
He had ordered the computer to show the view from an
angle not seen in person, and it appeared in the screen immediately, as
if a photo had been taken from that direction.
The system sends out bursts of laser light and times
the return of the pulses to the billionth of a second. It does this
1,000 times a second, recording the distance to each part of the scene.
At the same time, the camera is taking
visual views at 1,000th of a second. The computer stores this data in
its memory, instantly integrating information, immediately building a
detailed, three-dimensional image of the scene.
If the device were used with a cruise missile or
aircraft flying over enemy territory, it would be able to detect a tank
hidden beneath a tree. It would know the detailed structure of the
scene through laser readings and its color and
texture through photography.
Other devices have been used to record static scenes,
recording every detail of a precious statue in case it is destroyed
someday. But the USU system is much more flexible, able to instantly make such studies while moving.
"We can calculate the distance to objects within a centimeter or so," Pack said. "At the same time that round trip (by laser light) is happening, the imager here is collecting the imagery."
In the field, the USU
scientists used a laptop computer and their lightweight camera to make
scenes. Used in an aircraft, the laser would have to be more powerful,
but the system would use the same principles.
Additional caption: USU's Bob Pack is an inventor of a new 3D camera that may have space, military and movie uses.
Credit: Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News