Sony just designed a 1,000 fps sensor to enable faster robot responses

Sony’s new a9 mirrorless camera may track moving subjects at 20 frames per second — but that technology will soon allow robots to see potentially fatal mistakes at 1,000 fps. On Tuesday, May 16, Sony announced the launch of the IMX382, a high-speed sensor for industrial applications that’s 33 times faster than the usual sensor.

The sensor is designed for giving robots and other automated machinery the ability to track fast-moving objects. In applications such as monitoring production lines, Sony says that speed could mean the sensor picks up on potentially fatal manufacturing defects instantly, making it possible to quickly stop production to correct the error. In robotics, incorporating the sensor into the design could allow the bot to detect movement in the surroundings in real time — and respond.

Like the a9, the industrial sensor gets its speed from a stacked design that separates the light-gathering pixels and dedicates an entire layer to processing that data, which creates a significant speed increase over conventional sensors. A back-lit design also gives the chip high sensitivity for monitoring differences in the scene, using data such as color and brightness to detect and follow objects. Typical industrial sensors like this top out at 30 fps, Sony says.

By putting both the tracking and imaging power on a single chip, Sony says it will also allow companies to build both cheaper and more compact solutions.

In robotics, Sony suggests that the speed of the sensor means that machines could be trained to react automatically to their surroundings. Robots traditionally move by specifying a set of coordinates, but Sony says the speed of its latest sensor could make it possible to design an autonomous robot that responds to the movement of surrounding objects.

Sony is currently the market leader for the production of imaging sensors, and as the digital camera market shifts, the company says it’s working to pioneer new applications for imaging sensors.

Developers will have access to the 1,000 fps sensor to test within their own systems as early as October 2017.

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