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2019 Cooper Award: Next level 3D images of moving objects

Dr Lee Streeter, University of Waikato, has received the Cooper Award—the Royal Society Te Apārangi Early Career Research Excellence Award for Technology, Applied Science and Engineering—for developing new techniques to improve a type of 3D imaging called time-of-flight.

Time-of-flight imaging is a method for obtaining rapid 3D images of moving objects. It is used in a range of applications from virtual reality games to movement of goods in a factory. Rather than using laser scanning to build up a 3D image of an object in cross-section, slice by slice, time-of-flight imaging uses the difference between a source of light and that reflected to the sensor across all parts of the field of view simultaneously. This allows for rapid 3D imaging of a scene but there is also potential for error from highly reflective surfaces or from external light pollution. Movement of the objects being imaged, such as baggage on a conveyor belt, also make it difficult to capture an accurate image of the scene due to motion blur.

Dr Streeter has made key advances in the theory and practice of time-of-flight range imaging using mathematical modelling, statistical analysis, experimental testing and electrical engineering. The fresh perspective he has taken has allowed him to better characterise or reduce errors from a number of sources such as unwanted light scattering and error from internal timing in the electronics (called jitter error) – a phenomenon he both characterised and determined how to reduce. He has also determined methods to not only correct for motion blur in time-of-flight images, but to use motion blur to determine both how far and how fast objects are moving.

These breakthroughs will unlock applications for time-of-flight imaging in a broad range of challenging industrial problems from monitoring animal motion and produce size, goods handling and safe vehicle operation. Lee has a number of patents awarded or pending and he has been described as an international thought leader in the field of time-of-flight imaging.

On receiving the award, Lee said: “It is an honour to be recognised by Royal Society Te Apārangi with the Cooper Award. Reaching this stage of my career is the result of years of hard work, with support from key individuals since I completed my PhD. Despite the current explosion of devices for auto and mobile applications, there are still many unsolved problems in range imaging. I am confident that future work will continue to discover new, useful, and more powerful technologies.” 

Dr Streeter is a Lecturer at the School of Engineering at University of Waikato. In 2015 he was awarded a Marsden Fund Fast-Start grant to research velocity measurement and how to correct motion blur in time-of-flight imaging. In 2017 he was awarded a MBIE Smart Ideas grant to extend the results of his Marsden project for practical implementation.

Cooper Award

For encouraging research excellence in technology, applied science and engineering by early career researchers in New Zealand.


To Lee Vincent Streeter for making key advances in the theory and practice of time-of-flight range imaging