Depth-sensing cameras, such as Microsoft’s Kinect controller for video games, have become widely used 3-D sensors. Now, a new imaging technology addresses a major shortcoming of these cameras: the inability to work in bright light, especially sunlight. The key is to gather only the bits of light the camera actually needs. The researchers created a mathematical model to help program these devices so that the camera and its light source work together efficiently, eliminating extraneous light.

A new depth-sensing camera can sense the shape of a lit CFL bulb that would create blinding glare for a conventional camera.

One prototype based on this model synchronizes a laser projector with a common rolling-shutter camera — the type used in smartphones — so that the camera detects light only from points being illuminated by the laser as it scans across the scene. This technology is suitable for many applications, including medical imaging, inspection of shiny parts, and sensing for robots used to explore the Moon and planets. It also could be readily incorporated into most smartphones.