The university has obtained its first truly international patent to span most of the industrialised world with coverage in over 30 countries.
As part of an FP6 European project consortium called "Sensation", it developed a method for synchronising high speed cameras with exceptional accuracy. The method can be used for taking simultaneous digital snap-shots of an object, or event, from several different angles with a synchronisation error of less than a tenth of billionth of a second.
This invention was initially patented locally, but then, through the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) it became the first truly international patent application of the University of Malta. The patent covers the United States, Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Japan, among others.
WIPO was created in 1967 by the United Nations as a means of harmonising the complex process of securing intellectual property around the globe. It currently has 184 member states reaching 99.9 per cent of the world's population and is headquartered in Geneva.
The technology was invented and developed into a working prototype by Marc Anthony Azzopardi, at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Malta, as a by‑product of his research and development activity in automotive electronic systems.
This work has also resulted in a number of technical publications presented at international conferences and journals. The €16.44 million project involved 43 mostly-European partners and was partly funded by the European Commission. The university's share of the funding was secured by Prof. Joseph Micallef and Dr Ivan Grech.
The synchronisation method allows accurate but practical 3D imaging of ultra high-speed processes and has widespread application in a number of industries. Automotive vision is one such potential sector of application. A high degree of synchronisation simplifies the development of camera systems for driver alertness measurement, road surface condition monitoring, lane departure warning, and collision warning/avoidance. Other sectors include scientific instrumentation, crash testing; high speed industrial machine vision; medical imaging; gaming; and sports motion/gait analysis.
Testing the high performance system was a major challenge. The synchronisation accuracy is so high that a speeding projectile travelling at 25 times the speed of sound is still unable to generate a measurable distinction between images (of the projectile) captured by the multiple cameras. Laser beam scanners were used instead. The method is not limited by the frame rate and has been successfully demonstrated at several hundred frames per second. Immediately upon capture the simultaneous images can be transferred over a single standard serial cable and recovered at the output with zero loss in synchronisation. The combined transmission of synchronised video over a single cable also results in significant cost and weight savings.
The university commissioned ISIS Innovation, the technology transfer company of Oxford University, to aid in its commercialisation activities of this technology. As a result, it received a number of expressions of interest which it is currently pursuing. The university is thereby gaining patent commercialisation experience, which facilitates its ongoing efforts in transforming great ideas germinated in its laboratories into useful products which benefit society at large.
Marc Anthony Azzopardi is now with the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering where, together with his students, he continues to develop additional novel electronics technology for various types of autonomous air/marine/land vehicles, as well as civilian transport applications.
He thanked university director for Corporate Research & Knowledge Anton Bartolo "for his unfailing support".
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