Time-critical and resource-constrained 3D scene inference using transient histograms as a primitive scene representation.
Time-resolved image sensors that capture light at pico-to-nanosecond timescales were once limited to niche applications but are now rapidly becoming mainstream in consumer devices. We propose low-cost and low-power imaging modalities that capture scene information from minimal time-resolved image sensors with as few as one pixel. The key idea is to flood illuminate large scene patches (or the entire scene) with a pulsed light source and measure the time-resolved reflected light by integrating over the entire illuminated area. The one-dimensional measured temporal waveform, called transient, encodes both distances and albedoes at all visible scene points and as such is an aggregate proxy for the scene’s 3D geometry. We explore the viability and limitations of the transient waveforms by themselves for recovering scene information, and also when combined with traditional RGB cameras. We show that plane estimation can be performed from a single transient and that using only a few more it is possible to recover a depth map of the whole scene. We also show two proof-of-concept hardware prototypes that demonstrate the feasibility of our approach for compact, mobile, and budget-limited applications.