Toronto, Canada
Toronto, Canada

Neptec Design Group is an Ottawa based, Canadian vision systems company, providing machine vision solutions for space, industrial, and military applications. Privately owned and founded in 1990, Neptec is a NASA prime contractor, supplying operational systems to both the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. Starting in 2000, Neptec began expanding its technology to include active 3D imaging systems and 3D processing software. This work led directly to the development of Neptec's Laser Camera System, which is an operational system used by NASA to inspect the shuttle's external surfaces during flight. Building on Laser Camera System technology, Neptec has also developed a 3D imaging and tracking system designed for automated on-orbit rendezvous, inspection and docking. The TriDAR combines a high precision, short range triangulation sensor with a long range LIDAR sensor into the same optical path. Wikipedia.


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Space can be a dangerous place, with debris floating around and threatening to hit satellites and space stations. In fact, an increasingly large amount of that debris is man-made. To try and combat the threat of space debris on the International Space Station, the Canadian Space Agency has announced a $1.7 million ($1.21 million USD) system that will be able to regularly scan the station for damage. This is hugely helpful, because a large amount of the debris in space is so small that it's invisible to the naked eye, yet moving at such high speeds, it can still do damage to the space station. "The vision system will use a combination of three sensors — a 3D [LIDAR] laser, a high-definition camera, and an infrared camera — to support the inspection and maintenance of the aging infrastructure of the International Space Station," said the Canadian Space Agency in a statement. It also will help in the docking of spacecraft that visit the station. The technology itself is being built by a Canadian company called Neptec Design Group, which has previously worked with the likes of NASA on a lunar rover called Artemis Jr. The new system, set to launch in 2020, will be around the size of a microwave, and will show damage that would, in some cases, have remained hidden to the naked eye. The system itself will be attached to Dextre, another robot from the Canadian Space Agency that performs repairs on the outside of the ISS. Dextre's new vision system will be operated by mission controllers at 's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, or at the 's headquarters in -Hubert, Quebec, and the images will be available to the public. It's not yet exactly known how the system will work in practice, however the use of infrared and LIDAR sensors should allow for much more accurate scans to the outside of the International Space Station.


News Article | January 7, 2016
Site: motherboard.vice.com

A render of the Canadian Space Agency's newly announced vision system, mounted on the agency's maintenance robot Dextre. Image: Canadian Space Agency The International Space Station is under constant threat of impact from space debris. Some of that debris is so small that damage can be hard to see in traditional photos or with the naked eye. Some of it, such as meteorites, is natural. But more and more, debris is man-made. On Thursday, the Government of Canada and the Canadian Space Agency announced a new CAD$1.7 million "vision system" that will be able to regularly scan the ISS for damage at a degree not previously possible, and is slated to launch in 2020. "The vision system will use a combination of three sensors—a 3D [LIDAR] laser, a high-definition camera, and an infrared camera—to support the inspection and maintenance of the ageing infrastructure of the International Space Station," a release accompanying the announcement reads. It is being developed by a Canadian company, Neptec Design Group Ltd., which previously worked with NASA on the development of a prototype lunar rover, Artemis Jr. "Roughly the size of a microwave oven, the new vision system will reveal damage that in some cases remains hidden to the naked eye, or that is located in places that are hard to reach or difficult to see," according to the announcement. The occasion marked Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains' first visit to the Canadian Space Agency's headquarters in St-Hubert, Quebec. The system will be attached to Dextre, another Canadian Space Agency robot, that performs maintenance and repairs on the exterior of the space station. At present, the space station is examined using cameras already attached to Canadarm2—the station's robotic arm—and Dextre, from photos taken by crew inside the ISS, as well as photos taken during spacewalks. While it is unclear how, exactly, the vision system will function in practice, the addition of LIDAR and Infrared sensors could allow for more accurate 3D scans that could identify physical changes to the station's surface—similar to how a self-driving car uses such sensors to examine the world around it. There's a bit of good news, too, for fans of NASA's ever-growing trove of freely accessible photography: "The system's imagery will be available to the public," the Canadian Space Agency said, "who will see the ISS as they have never seen it before."


Bouchette G.,Neptec Design Group | Church P.,Neptec Design Group | McFee J.E.,Defence R and D Canada Suffield | Adler A.,Carleton University
IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing | Year: 2014

A detailed study is undertaken to investigate the performance and phenomenology of electrical impedance tomography for underwater applications. Experiments are performed in an aquarium tank filled with water and a sediment layer. A 64-electrode square array, appropriately scaled down in size, and a previously developed data acquisition system are used. An evaluation is conducted of the ability to detect compact objects buried at various depths in the sediment, with different horizontal separations, and at various vertical separations between the electrode array and the sediment layer. The objects include metallic and nonmetallic mine-like objects and inert ammunition projectiles, all appropriately scaled down in size. The effects of a number of other physical factors are studied, including sediment type, water turbidity and salinity, and object coating integrity and rusting. © 1980-2012 IEEE.


News Article | January 7, 2016
Site: www.rdmag.com

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced today the awarding of a $1.7 million contract to design a new vision system, which will be mounted on the International Space Station (ISS)’s Dextre, the agency’s robotic handyman aboard the space station. The contract was awarded to Neptec Design Group Ltd., of Ottawa. The system is slated to be launched in 2020. According to the Government of Canada, the new vision system will be comprised of three sensors: a 3-D laser, a high-definition camera, and an infrared camera. It will be used to inspect and maintain the ISS’s infrastructure, and can potentially assist with visiting spacecraft docking. Today, such inspections are carried out by cameras on Canadarm2 and Dextre, or by sending astronauts out on spacewalks, to name a couple methods. The ISS is not impervious to cosmic hazards. Regularly, the spacecraft, which orbits the Earth every 90 min, is hit by small meteorites and debris. The new vision system, roughly the size of a microwave, will be operated by ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas, or the CSA’s headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Quebec. “Neptec is pleased to have this opportunity to adapt our world-class 3-D LIDAR and infrared camera technologies to enhance the safe operation of the (ISS) and support future space exploration,” said Neptec’s CEO Paul Nephin. “Spin-offs from the technology will give us an edge in world markets for Earth applications such as increased mining productivity, safer operation of subsea oil and gas infrastructure, and guiding self-driving vehicles.” Once launched, the images captured by the system will be available for public consumption.


Trickey E.,Neptec Design Group | Church P.,Neptec Design Group | Cao X.,Neptec Design Group
Proceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering | Year: 2013

The OPAL obscurant penetrating LiDAR was developed by Neptec and characterized in various degraded visual environments (DVE) over the past five years. Quantitative evaluations of obscurant penetration were performed using the Defence R&D Canada - Valcartier (DRDC Valcartier) instrumented aerosol chamber for obscurants such as dust and fog. Experiments were done with the sensor both at a standoff distance and totally engulfed in the obscurants. Field trials were also done to characterize the sensor in snow conditions and in smoke. Finally, the OPAL was also mounted on a Bell 412 helicopter to characterize its dust penetration capabilities, in environment such as Yuma Proving Ground. The paper provides a summary of the results of the OPAL evaluations demonstrating it to be a true "see through" obscurant penetrating LiDAR and explores commercial applications of the technology. © 2013 SPIE.


Ruel S.,Neptec Design Group | Luu T.,Neptec Design Group | Berube A.,Neptec Design Group
Journal of Field Robotics | Year: 2012

This paper presents results from the first two Space Shuttle test flights of the TriDAR vision system. TriDAR was developed as a proximity operations sensor for autonomous rendezvous and docking (AR&D) missions to noncooperative targets in space. The system does not require the use of cooperative markers, such as retro-reflectors, on the target spacecraft. TriDAR includes a hybrid three-dimensional (3D) sensor along with embedded model based tracking algorithms to provide six-degree-of-freedom (6 DOF) relative pose information in real time. A thermal imager is also included to provide range and bearing information for far-range rendezvous operations. In partnership with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and NASA, Neptec has space-qualified the TriDAR vision system and integrated it on board Space Shuttle Discovery to fly as a detailed test objective (DTO) on the STS-128 and STS-131 missions to the International Space Station (ISS). The objective of the TriDAR DTO missions was to demonstrate the system's ability to perform acquisition and tracking of a known target in space autonomously and provide real-time relative navigation cues. Knowledge (reference 3D model) about the target can be obtained on the ground or in orbit. Autonomous operations involved automatic acquisition of the ISS and real-time tracking, as well as detection and recovery from system malfunctions and/or loss of tracking. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


Patent
Neptec Design Group | Date: 2011-10-18

A sensor for determining a profile of an object surface relative to a reference plane includes a radiation source, a collector, a processor, first and second reflectors and at least one reflective element comprising third and fourth reflectors secured in mutual angular relation. The radiation source projects a launch beam for impingement onto the object surface. The collector detects at least a portion of a return beam reflected by the object surface. The processor determines the profile of the object surface at a point of impingement of the launch beam onto the object surface from at least one characteristic of the at least a portion of the return beam.


Patent
Neptec Design Group | Date: 2012-04-26

A head for directing radiated energy from a source to a coordinate in a field of view defined by at least one of azimuth and elevation, comprises an angled element and a planar reflecting element. The angled element rotates about a first axis and redirects the beam, the redirection of the angled element differing in at least one of direction and extent as it is rotated. An axis normal to the surface extends at an angle to the second axis. The reflecting surface receives the redirected beam at a point thereon and reflects it in a direction within the FOV. A rotator may be positioned between the source and the angled element to support and independently rotate the angled element and the reflecting surface about the first and second axes without impeding the energy.


News Article | August 14, 2007
Site: www.zdnet.com

Neptec Design Group, a Canadian company and a NASA prime contractor for 25 space missions, was kind enough to send me exclusive images of Endeavour's damaged tiles during its last take-off. So here are some of these pictures provided by Neptec. For more information, please read a recent interview with Iain Christie, the Neptec's president. Above is an excerpt from a Neptec video showing a damaged tile of the Endeavour shuttle. The image above shows a false color scan of the damaged area on Endeavour's thermal protection system produced by the Neptec's Laser Camera System (LCS). The two images above and below show the damages on Endeavour's thermal protection system. Finally, here is another image created by the Neptec's LCS and which was extracted from a video which is accessible here. [Disclaimer: I don't have any financial ties with Neptec, even if I've already written several times about what the company does for space exploration. Here are links to my previous posts.] You'll find related stories by following the links below.

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