Florian Willomitzer Receives NSF CRII Grant

The award supports the development of theory, algorithms, and hardware that will lead to a fundamentally new type of 3D camera and scanning system

Florian WillomitzerFlorian Willomitzer, research assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northwestern Engineering, received the prestigious Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Research Initiation Initiative (CRII) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The highly competitive CRII program supports the research independence of between 55-60 early-career faculty each year by providing essential resources to investigators for student support, postdoctoral scholars, travel, and research equipment.

Willomitzer will receive $175,000 over two years from NSF’s Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS) for his project titled “Sub-mm 3D Scanning of Real-World Scenes with Active Multi-View Event Sensing.”

The work will focus on the development of theory, algorithms, and hardware for a fundamentally new type of 3D camera designed for arbitrary real-world scenes with mixed reflectance properties.

Willomitzer and his team aim to address a long-standing problem in computer vision related to active high-resolution 3D scanning of scenes cluttered with objects that substantially differ in surface reflectance characteristics or scenes polluted by undesirable ambient lighting such as sunlight or strong inter-reflections.

“The concept exploits the novel detection modality of biologically inspired event cameras, which operate on a fundamentally different principle than conventional cameras,” Willomitzer said. “My team will capitalize on the strengths of event sensing, while simultaneously utilizing existing tradeoffs and limits in 3D imaging to solve the profound ambiguity problem caused by various signal-interreflections.”

Current high precision 3D scanning technology is either tailored to a narrow range of application scenarios or requires extensive prior knowledge about reflectance properties and geometry of the scene.

“A scene-independent, precise, and flexible 3D sensing system that delivers high-quality data is of significant interest for researchers in the broader vision community and for applications in today’s billion-dollar industries including virtual reality, autonomous navigation, medical imaging, and industrial inspection,” Willomitzer said. “The produced sets of high-quality 3D data from such a ‘one fits all’ system could potentially usher the next wave in vision-related AI, leading to algorithms with unprecedented detection quality, prediction accuracy, or navigation precision.”

The project builds on previous work performed by colleagues at Northwestern University and Willomitzer’s work on several active multi-view 3D imaging concepts for different object classes that he has conducted with colleagues over the past decade, beginning with his doctoral research at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany.

Willomitzer directs the Computational 3D Imaging and Measurement (3DIM) Lab, which collaborates with several Northwestern faculty working in different fields. The multidisciplinary team works on novel methods to image hidden objects through scattering media or around corners, high-resolution holographic displays, unconventional methods for precise VR eye tracking, and the implementation of high-precision metrology methods in low-cost mobile handheld devices. The team also develops novel time-of-flight and structured light imaging techniques working at depth resolutions in the 100μm-range.

“I feel extremely honored and grateful to receive the NSF CRII award,” Willomitzer said. “At the same time, I'm very excited about the work that lies ahead of our team, as it will represent a critical first step to put parts of my long-term research vision into practice.”

The CRII project includes a comprehensive education program incorporating 3D imaging principles in a curriculum for Chicago afterschool programs to introduce at-risk youth to basic concepts in optics, image processing, and electronics.

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