A prototype optoelectronic system measures the three dimensional relative coordinates of objects of interest or of targets affixed to objects of interest in a workspace. The system includes a charge-coupled-device video camera mounted in a known position and orientation in the workspace, a frame grabber, and a personal computer running image-data-processing software. Relative to conventional optical surveying equipment, this system can be built and operated at much lower cost; however, it is less accurate. It is also much easier to operate than are conventional instrumentation systems. In addition, there is no need to establish a coordinate system through cooperative action by a team of surveyors.

Figure 1. In this Laboratory Setup, the camera of the prototype system is aimed at a mockup of a latch mating with a trunnion to demonstrate the use of the system to measure the three-dimensional coordinates of the latch relative of the trunnion.

The system operates in real time at around 30 frames per second (limited mostly by the frame rate of the camera). It continuously tracks targets as long as they remain in the field of the camera. In this respect, it emulates more expensive, elaborate laser tracking equipment that costs of the order of 100 times as much. Unlike laser tracking equipment, this system does not pose a hazard of laser exposure.

Figure 2. A Target Pattern of Light and Dark Squares is processed by a block convolution mask to obtain a pattern of bright dots on a dark background. The three-dimensional positions of the target can be determined from the pixel coordinates of the dots.

Images acquired by the camera are digitized and processed to extract all valid targets in the field of view. The three-dimensional coordinates (x, y, and z) of each target are computed from the pixel coordinates of the targets in the images to accuracy of the order of millimeters over distances of the orders of meters. The system was originally intended specifically for real-time position measurement of payload transfers from payload canisters into the payload bay of the Space Shuttle Orbiters (see Figure 1). The system may be easily adapted to other applications that involve similar coordinate-measuring requirements. Examples of such applications include manufacturing, construction, preliminary approximate land surveying, and aerial surveying.

For some applications with rectangular symmetry, it is feasible and desirable to attach a target composed of black and white squares to an object of interest (see Figure 2). For other situations, where circular symmetry is more desirable, circular targets also can be created. Such a target can readily be generated and modified by use of commercially available software and printed by use of a standard office printer. All three relative coordinates (x, y, and z) of each target can be determined by processing the video image of the target. Because of the unique design of corresponding image-processing filters and targets, the vision-based position-measurement system is extremely robust and tolerant of widely varying fields of view, lighting conditions, and varying background imagery.

This work was done by John Lane, Christopher Immer, Jeffrey Brink, and Robert Youngquist of Dynacs, Inc. for Kennedy Space Center. For further information, contact:

Christopher Immer
ASRC Aerospace
Kennedy Space Center,
FL 32899
Phone No. (321) 867-6752


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2005 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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