A new video camera, developed by Mesa Imaging, captures 3D images at up to 29 fps. The 176x144 pixel camera outputs live video footage with depth information for each pixel. The camera gives precision depth information from 0.3m to 3m, with an accuracy of less than 0.3cm. This amazing sensor is being sold by Acroname for $7,500, but compared to many laser rangefinders, which only capture data in two dimensions, this is quite a deal.
The measurement precision is determined by the amount of light which is reflected from the scene back to the imager chip. As a general rule of thumb when operated indoors, the distance accuracy is approximately 1% of the full range. The distance accuracy can be improved by increasing the modulation frequency or optical power, or by reducing the frame rate.
Data is transferred from the camera to a computer via a USB connection. The sensor uses time-of-flight (TOF) phase detection to determine the distance to objects. The camera illuminates the field-of-view with 1W of IR light, via LEDs modulated at 20MHz. Mesa has several publications listed on their site which further describes the technology behind the camera.
A sensor like this will go a long way in solving the ever elusive problem of letting robots accurately know where they are and what's around them. Mesa also plans on targeting the video game and medical system markets for their camera systems. For more information about the camera you can check out Mesa's FAQ section.