When a camera is attached to a robot, the robot simply “sees” a bunch of data. With the camera picture alone, it has difficulty recognizing individual objects or patterns. However, with a little bit of AI technology and about $2 worth of off-the-shelf parts, we can turn an ordinary camera into a device that a robot could use to discern still or moving objects, as well as bodies on a darkened street or in a smoke filled room.
This all takes place through a process known as segmentation where a computer is used to split apart an image into various segments. For instance, a camera could flash an invisible infrared LED light over an area in its field of vision. Then, based on the brightness of the pixels returned, the machine attached to the camera could determine what object in its viewing area it wants to look at. Using such a segmentation camera, it could not only pick out human beings but even pick out hands, heads, or even more detailed entities for that matter. Motion and color could also be used to segment an image. Having found the object it’s looking for, the computer could either follow its movement or continue its search for similar objects. Seg cameras can even recognize gestures, facial expressions and hand motions.
A computer program like this, along with a limited speech recognition program, can perform simple tasks like hands-free Web surfing (using motion to scroll back and forth and speech to select links and menus). It can also be used to highlight and clarify a picture. For example, in a web conference, one is only interested in the clarity of the other person’s face. A seg cam can isolate the face and make sure it’s clear, ignoring the rest of the image.
A more advanced seg cam can theoretically read lips, and with speech recognition added in to the mix, it could function as a fairly accurate speech synthesizer. It could also investigate facial features, giving audible warnings to drivers who show signs of falling asleep (they blink too long, yawn too much, or begin to nod off).