Intel’s New RealSense D435i Camera Adds Integrated Tracking

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Intel has been working hard to gain acceptance of its depth-sensing RealSense camera for quite a few years now. It has demoed them in all sorts of devices, but most people only know about them if they have a laptop with one. With its new D435i model, Intel is trying to change that. This new version includes an integrated IMU that supports 6-degrees-of-freedom tracking. Intel is hoping that will make it more popular in a variety of embedded applications, including drones and robotics. It might also help get it designed into AR and VR headsets that rely on inside-out tracking rather than needing external beacons.

The D435i builds on Intel’s D435 camera unit, that outputs a 720p stream of depth information at up to 90 fps, alongside a 1080p RGB camera. Intel specifies it can measure depth from .1 meter to around 10 meters, depending on the scene and lighting. The D435i adds an inexpensive (a few dollars in volume) but powerful Bosch BMI055 Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), with its output data stream timestamped to align with the camera’s depth data. Thoughtfully, Intel also includes a small tripod and USB-C cable when you purchase one.

What You Get By Adding an IMU

Bosch's BMI055 IMU is tiny but packs a lot of sensing capability into its small packageOne of the trickiest parts of designing a robot, drone, or AR/VR headset is sensor fusion. Synchronizing input from multiple cameras, sensors, and navigational aides is crucial, but requires tight timing and can be computationally complex. By integrating an IMU directly into its depth-sensing RealSense camera module, Intel has done the work of fusing vision data with depth, and now position and motion tracking. Assuming the unit lives up to its advance billing, that should make it much easier to design devices that can navigate and map their surroundings.

In particular, mobile AR and VR headsets have presented a unique tracking challenge. Unlike the larger, tethered versions that typically rely on external beacons for tracking, standalone headsets need to do their own tracking and mapping of their environment. Low-end versions often depend on the IMU in an attached phone, but that greatly limits their performance. Stereo cameras, like Zed from Stereolabs, can do some inside-out tracking using vision, but they’re still expensive, and require a lot of processor power.

Getting Your Hands On a RealSense D435i

The Intel RealSense D435i will start shipping on November 26th (although the Intel online store says December 3rd) for $200. If it is anything like the last few models, there won’t be much application support for it out of the gate, so the real target market for the standalone device is developers and OEMs. Like its siblings, the D435i supports Intel’s RealSense SDK 2.0, with bindings for Python, Node.js, Unity, ROS, and C++.

Now Read: Stereolabs brings position tracking to mobile VR using its Zed camera pairIntel snaps up Movidius to accelerate its AI and RealSense vision efforts, and Intel may tap RealSense to chase Microsoft and Magic Leap in augmented reality.

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