Mar 1, 2018 | By Tess

A team of researchers in Norway has developed a low-cost, 3D printed hyperspectral imager device which could be installed on drones to give them advanced imaging capabilities. A study in the journal Optics Express details how to make the hyperspectral imager for about $700—which is significantly cheaper than existing tools of a similar caliber.

(Image: João Fortuna / Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

Hyperspectral imaging devices, for those unfamiliar, are not totally unlike color cameras you may be accustomed to, except that instead of only working with a color array based off of just three colors (RGB), they can detect hundreds of colors.

This ability means that “each pixel of a hyperspectral image contains information covering the entire visible spectrum.” In practice, these imaging devices can be used for accurate detection applications, such as analyzing the color gradient of the ocean to detect harmful algae, for example.

Typically, however, these high-caliber imaging devices tend to cost tens of thousands of dollars—making them mostly inaccessible—and are often accompanied by bulky casing.

That’s why when we heard about a $700 3D printed hyperspectral imager, we almost didn’t believe it. But lo and behold, it does exist, and it is not only cheap and DIY, but also lightweight and compact enough to be installed on a drone.

“The instruments we made can be used very effectively on a drone or unmanned vehicle to acquire spectral images,” explained Fred Sigernes, the project’s leader, from the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) in Norway. “This means that hyperspectral imaging could be used to map large areas of terrain, for example, without the need to hire a plane or helicopter to carry an expensive and large instrument.”

(Image: Fred Sigernes / University Centre in Svalbard)

The research team reportedly used a desktop 3D printer to manufacture customized holders for the device’s optics. According to Sigernes, the team opted to use plastic 3D printing rather than metal to cut back on time, costs.

“3D printing with plastic is inexpensive and very effective for making even complex parts, such as the piece needed to hold the grating that disperses the light. I was able to print several versions and try them out,” he said. Down the line, the researchers say metal will be considered to make the device more durable.

The device’s optics, for their part, are based on the “push-broom technique,” a method that uses detailed and precise line-scanning to compose a spectral image. A stabilization system added by the researchers allow the imager to be mounted on a drone without, well, destabilizing the image.

“Push-broom hyperspectral imagers typically require expensive orientation stabilization,” Sigernes added. “However, you can now buy very inexpensive, gyroscope-based, electronically stabilizing systems. The advent of these new systems made is possible for us to make inexpensive hyperspectral imagers.”

The lightweight 3D printed device—which weights only about half a pound—was tested using an octocopter drone. Balanced with the help of a two-axis electronic stabilizing setup, the low-cost hyperspectral imager reportedly “performed well,” successfully detecting different elements of the landscape below it.

In another experiment, the researchers used a three-axis stabilizer and moved the 3D printed imager in front of a computer screen with a fruit bowl display. This sweep, they say, resulted in 571 spectograms in just 22 seconds.

Presently, the research team is working on improving the imaging device’s sensitivity—as it is not quite as powerful as its more expensive counterparts. “There are many ways to use data acquired by hyperspectral imagers,” concluded Sigernes. “By lowering the cost of these instruments, we hope that more people will be able to use this analytical technique and develop it further.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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The Power wrote at 3/1/2018 5:21:20 PM:

Building the camera is not that hard, it is dealing with the output/data that I don't understand and it is not covered. Good article and good for them never the less.

Ivan P wrote at 3/1/2018 12:31:24 PM:

This is epic ! Thanks for writing this article and sharing the knowledge

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