Time-of-Travel Methods for Measuring Optical Flow on Board a Micro Flying Robot

  • Vanhoutte Erik
  • Mafrica Stefano
  • Ruffier Franck
  • Bootsma Reinoud J.
  • Serres Julien

  • Optic flow sensor
  • Sense and avoid
  • VLSI retina
  • Micro air vehicle MAV
  • Bionics
  • Bio-inspired robotics
  • Biorobotics


For use in autonomous micro air vehicles, visual sensors must not only be small, lightweight and insensitive to light variations; on-board autopilots also require fast and accurate optical flow measurements over a wide range of speeds. Using an auto-adaptive bio-inspired Michaelis–Menten Auto-adaptive Pixel (M2APix) analog silicon retina, in this article, we present comparative tests of two optical flow calculation algorithms operating under lighting conditions from 6×10−7 to 1.6×10−2 W·cm−2 (i.e., from 0.2 to 12,000 lux for human vision). Contrast “time of travel” between two adjacent light-sensitive pixels was determined by thresholding and by cross-correlating the two pixels’ signals, with measurement frequency up to 5 kHz for the 10 local motion sensors of the M2APix sensor. While both algorithms adequately measured optical flow between 25 ∘/s and 1000 ∘/s, thresholding gave rise to a lower precision, especially due to a larger number of outliers at higher speeds. Compared to thresholding, cross-correlation also allowed for a higher rate of optical flow output (99 Hz and 1195 Hz, respectively) but required substantially more computational resources.