Facing up to the challenges

Paul Boughton

Christoph Brachner introduces a new high-speed camera for automotive safety applications

High-speed recordings are playing an increasingly important role in product optimisation within the automotive industry. Cameras delivering slow motion pictures are one of several measuring systems used in a crash test facility that provide essential data for detailed analysis and have a huge impact on the workflow for technicians and test engineers.  The camera’s reliability is crucial for demanding applications. In this sphere, size and usability are as critical as resolution, frame rate and light sensitivity.

Setting up cameras inside and around prototype cars and sleds, controlling the cameras by software and downloading the images can be time-consuming work. A smooth, fast and reliable workflow saves time and allows staff to focus on other issues. Until recently, small high-speed cameras compromised on resolution, speed, sensitivity or image quality.

The new pco.dimax CS camera system combines all of the above desirable characteristics in a compact and ruggedised housing. It is optimised for onboard, sled and off-board applications and meets the demanding in-car and component crash test requirements.

The camera delivers 1,500 frames per second (fps) at full HD+ resolution (1920x1440 pixels). Slow-motion sequences with full HD resolution (1920x1080 pixels) can be captured at more than 2,000 fps. Test setups often result in compromised lighting situations with very bright and dark areas within a single image. This tends to conceal relevant information due to reflections and shadows. Thanks the pco.dimax CS having outstanding light sensitivity and high dynamic range, it images perfectly in these demanding settings, providing highly detailed image resolution that would be otherwise hidden.

A versatile approach

In addition to high imaging performance PCO focused its attention on making the camera highly versatile so the user can easily change mounting positions from off-board to onboard positions and vice versa. Facilities with a limited number of cameras that need to change their setups for different tests within a short period of time will benefit from the camera’s versatility while still complying with current NCAP film regulations for off-board and onboard positioning.

Easy to change lens adapters allow the use of solid C-mounts for high-g applications and F- and EF-mount lenses for off-board applications. An electronic Canon lens adapter is a user-friendly feature for when the camera is placed in positions that are hard to access, such as film pits, ceilings or crash blocks. The operator can control focus and aperture settings via software from the control room ensuring fast and safe workflow.

Focus on operational reliability

In terms of safety and reliability, high-speed camera users demand the cameras work under the harshest environments. High priority was given to designing in the reliability and safety of the camera under these conditions. A battery pack ensures that it will run independent of the power supply. Thus a power failure in the facility won’t stop the camera from recording or keeping the images in the memory. The camera was designed with a pulse length filter to prevent strong electromagnetic interference (EMI) from causing false triggering. An integrated phase-locked loop (PLL) provides secure synchronisation of each camera that has been connected to a sync source. If the synchronisation signal drops out, the cameras keep running exactly at the previously supplied sync frequency.

When the pco.dimax CS camera is used onboard the operator can rely on the high g-trigger function to trigger the camera if the external trigger fails or if an external trigger signal is not provided. The incorporated acceleration sensor detects high g-forces and triggers the camera at a user-defined threshold. The g-force threshold can be set via software to meet the needs of each test requirement.

Passive safety applications largely require specialised equipment. PCO offers purpose-made accessories to meet these demands. In high-g environments a ruggedised junction box with a battery back-up supplies power, Ethernet, trigger and sync signal for up to 10 cameras. To protect the optical axis from strong side acceleration during impact an optional lens cage provides high stabilisation for the camera lens mount and the lens.

PCO’s new application-orientated software package is a critical part of its total systems solution. The software helps facilitate the work flow while setting up cameras and downloading images by minimising effort and time expenditure due to a well-structured, clearly arranged software interface and an unlimited number of reloadable camera settings. The software’s flexibility and reloadable settings promotes efficient changes of setting when alternating between tests.

Crash and component testing are critical processes requiring high investments, therefore a reliable camera system tailored to the application’s requirement can greatly reduce future expenditures by optimising workflow and keeping downtimes low.

Christoph Brachner is with PCO

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