3D Ultrasonic Sensor Can See with Sound

Article By : Anne-Françoise Pelé

Toposens has completed a new round of funding to enhance its 3D ultrasonic sensor technology...

Munich-based Toposens has developed a 3D ultrasonic sensor technology that perceives its environment via the principle of echolocation – just like a bat.

Founded in 2015, Toposens has developed 3D ultrasound sensor vision that uses sound to support robust, low-cost and precise near-field 3D vision for applications such as autonomous driving, robotics and smart buildings. While existing sensor technologies can be negatively impacted by light conditions, reflections, and weather, Toposens claims its sensors use echolocation to generate robust, real-time 3D point clouds to guide autonomous systems, even in the most difficult environments.

Seeing with sound

Toposens claims it has the ability to see with sound. “Our technology is based on ultrasonic, which means that we are scanning the environment with ultrasonic soundwaves,” Andreas Just, head of marketing at Toposens, told EE Times Europe. “Our sensor sends out an ultrasonic pulse that gets reflected from objects in the detection area of the sensor and is received by the sensor. By measuring the time it takes an ultrasonic pulse to travel to the object and get reflected back to the sensor, the distance to the object can be calculated.”

Besides measuring the distance to an object, Just said Toposens’ ultrasonic sensors can calculate the horizontal and vertical position of an object relative to the sensor itself and provide 3D coordinates for detected objects. “Therefore, we can determine object locations in three-dimensional space.” If, for instance, the sensor is mounted on a robot, “it can see its environment with sound.”

Short-range vision

In 2018, Toposens launched “TS Alpha”, a 3D ultrasonic sensor that detects people and objects in 3D. The sensor sends out ultrasound signals that are reflected by the surrounding objects and immediately get translated into 3D coordinates in the sensor itself, without requiring additional hardware. By combining standard hardware components put together in a special layout with proprietary algorithms, machine vision and AI-software, the system is capable of generating a 3D point cloud of its near-field environment and tracking the position of any static or dynamic object.

In 2019, Toposens unveiled the ultrasonic, beacon-based 3D Tracking System, which provides x, y, z coordinates from the tagged objects with one receiver and at least one sender unit. “By using ultrasonic technology, we can offer a cost-effective tracking solution that enables to use the system regardless of lighting conditions,” Just said, highlighting the accuracy over short distances and the opening angle of up to 160°.

Toposens’ Tracking System can be used for several tracking applications like drones, tracking goods and assets, and robotic navigation. It indeed helps robots navigate and dock correctly to charging stations.

The Munich-based startup has been working with partners like Infineon and Murata. More specifically, Infineon supplies Toposens with its XENSIV MEMS microphones. These microphones enable the detection of sound pulses and are a crucial component for 3D object localization via ultrasound. Japanese electronics manufacturer Murata supports Toposens not only as a transducer supplier but also as a global partner in the Japanese electronics market. Toposens is also part of Nvidia’s Inception program, which helps accelerate startups pushing the frontiers of AI and data science.

(Image: Toposens)

A new round of funding to support future developments

Toposens has just completed a new round of funding to enhance its 3D ultrasonic sensor technology and application software development. The seven-digit financing will also help the company develop new partnerships and launch new use cases. “We are already evaluating new partnership opportunities in the area of industrial applications, automotive and robotics,” Just said.

Just said Toposens is currently working and testing its technology in different industries like the entertainment industry (e.g. controlling, tracking movie cameras, moving lights), the drone industry (e.g. landing tasks, tracking), as well as the tracking of people and the management of buildings (e.g. sensors for elevator doors).

In the mid-term, Toposens aims to focus on mass market industrialization and on the development of scalable product use cases.

“In addition to our funding round, we received the European Union Horizon 2020 funding, which we will use to push forward our sensor technology in perspective of the autonomous driving market.”

Led by existing investor Alpana Ventures from Switzerland, this round includes new investors, namely Basinghall Partners and In-Q-Tel.

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