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3D TOF technology creates ‘safety bubble’ around machines

22 November, 2019

The analogue technology company Analog Devices (ADI) is developing an alternative machine safety technology that uses a 3D TOF (time-of-flight) sensing technology, rather than the more common 2D Lidar (light detection and ranging) systems used for safety light curtains. It says that the new approach will result in a wider 120-degree field-of-view and faster detection times, as well as saving space on factory floors.

In a recent demonstration at its European headquarters in Ireland, ADI showed a prototype of its technology that could detect movements in 3D space within a range of 0.3–10m, using a sensor from the Chinese machine vision specialist, Pico Zense.

ADI says that its 3D TOF technology could be used to create a “safety bubble” around potentially dangerous machinery, including robots. Several sensors could be combined to provide 360-degree all-round protection. It adds that its time-of-flight technology delivers a much higher resolution than earlier TOF technologies, and is detailed enough to resolve individual fingers, for example.

But it could take a few years before the new safety technology reaches the market. ADI is likely to work with partners to commercialise the technology. There will probably need to be changes to regulations before the technology can be used in machine safety applications.

ADI says that its time-of-flight technology provides four times better resolution than most other ToF sensors. The colour indicates distance (not temperature).

ADI believes that its 3D TOF technology could have other applications such as: SLAM (simultaneous location and mapping) systems, which mobile robots use to map their environment and position themselves accurately; gesture controls; people counting; 3D scanning of packaging; and object avoidance. It could also be mounted on robot arms to monitor their environments in 3D.

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