304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Attending AR/VR/MR and Photonics West Conference
I will attend the AR/VR/MR conference next week (as I write this article). I have already had many people ask if I would be there and like meeting blog readers. I have been reviewing the AR/VR/MR program, and there are many interesting talks. This is the best conference to learn about AR technology and meet technical people in AR.
Porotech, the subject of the previous article, will be presenting Simplifying the manufacture and design of optical systems for AR glasses with DynamicPixelTuning® microLED technology on 30 January 2023 • 4:40 PM, Room 3022. Porotech will also be publicly exhibiting on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.
VoxelSensors, the subject of this article, will be presenting Low power, low latency 3D perception for XR 30 January 2023 • 3:20 PM PST, Room 3024
This series on CES 2023 is starting with new foundation technologies for AR/MR rather than products. The first three parts covered Meta Materials’ non-polarizing dimming, Porotech’s MicroLED display technologies, and Addoptics 3-D Printable Optics Molds. This article discusses VoxelSensors, a new 3-D perception technology.
While I am familiar with the basic concepts of 3D perception, I have not studied it extensively. So I may slip up on the terminology and be unaware of some methods used in AR and VR. Based on what I know, VoxelSensors seems to have major advances over the current 3D perception methods.
To help understand how the VoxelSensors approach is so different, a short background on the common existing 3D perception methods and their limitations is included toward the end of this article.
Voxelsensors is a fabless semiconductor company making a new type of “camera,” with each sensor, what they call Switching Pixels™, capturing the time a scanning laser “event” occurs. It can send out events at a rate of 100 MHz.
The VoxelSensor works differently than an “event camera,” as they are commonly known. However, existing event cameras were used to develop the algorithms before the specialized and a better-performing, VoxelSensor was created.
Because the VoxelSensor is designed to look for a scanning laser, it can be very sensitive to that laser light while rejecting all other light. Because of laser and IR radiation eye safety limits, in 3D perception, better sensor sensitivity translates into better range and resolution.
The VoxelSensors 3D Perception method starts with a Lissajous scanning of a laser beam. While the scanning does not have to be Lissajous scanning, the Lissajous pattern can quickly scan a space image of the whole area. The resolution keeps building if everything is stationary as the scanning process continues. Conceptually, the high-resolution perception is built from a series of up-to-date sparse detections. The figure below from VoxelSensor illustrates how a sparse scanning process detects faster than a common Time-of-Flight Camera LiDAR. Also, note that it will have a much higher-resolution image at any point in time.
The VoxelSensor’s method has a sparse image of the whole field of view in less than 1 millisecond. In contrast, typical LiDAR methods can take 16 milliseconds or more plus whatever processing time is required before it detects anything. By this time it detects anything, the typical LiDAR scan is stale by more than 16 milliseconds.
Using the output of two VoxelSensors, it is very simple to determine 3D distance via simple triangulation. There is no complex image processing required. The distance accuracy, unlike LiDAR, is not based on the speed of light. Thus the distance resolution can be higher and not requires the degree of calibration required to measure distances based on the speed of light. The figure below outlines VoxelSensor’s 3D perception process.
VoxelSensors produced a 1-minute video showing their suite at CES 2023 and some information on their technology. They used a visible red laser (rather than IR) so people could see the process.
The current demonstration, briefly seen in the video, is big and bulky and has a ways to go in terms of fitting in an AR or VR Headset. But this is common for an early-stage demonstration. VoxelSensors expects everything to fit easily in an AR/VR headset in a finished product with just the two small Switching Pixels sensors.
VoxelSensors is in the process of shrinking everything and announced in December 2022 that they are working with Oqmented, which has Lissajous scanning mem’s mirrors. In addition to 3D perception, Oqmented has been trying to use its Lissajous scanning process for making laser scanning displays for several years.
As I wrote and showed in AWE 2021 Part 2: Laser Scanning – Oqmented, Dispelix, and ST Micro, I don’t think Lissajous scanning laser beam scanning displays (LBS) will ever make sense or be competitive. But in that same article, I thought that Oqmented and 3-D Sensing with Lissajous Scanning would make tremendous sense in 3D sensing/perception (perhaps I knew of this 3D perception method). To be blunt, Oqmented should concentrate on perception and forget about display applications.
The basic goal of 3D sensing is to develop a point cloud of Voxels in terms of horizontal (X), vertical (Y), and depth (Z) to physical objects in the real world. Some of the common 3D perception techniques used in VR/AR:
The following table is a comparison made by VoxelSensors:
What I see as major standout capabilities of VoxelSensors over existing 3D perception methods:
We will have to wait and see how the VoxelSensors system will shrink and what the Switching Pixels VoxelSensors will cost in production. I assume VoxelSensors will eventually be competitive with time-of-flight cameras in both size and cost but offer the above advantages.