How to take distance using laser and camera
This may be extremely simple, but then again, some one out there might get inspired by this thing that I just "found", so I decided to share :)
Actually I started way more complicated with all sorts of moving stereo lasers :P
But I got it down to this: Mount a laser to point in cameras direction and film. If the laser is placed on top, pointing a little down, the dot returned will be higher the closer the object is. I guess it should be fairly easy to be looking for that red dot's place on the axle, using some form of analysing software?
I myself have not gotten into using webcams on my robots yet, but when I do, it would be quite easy to test this method as a simple distance "sensor".
Due to all sorts of issues this may never be very precise (unless you have some really precise setup) - but it should give a very good indication of "close or far", will work on pretty long distances (specially inside, with shiny surroundings), and it will be cool.
And just to make sure you get me; I am talking:
The higher on y axis the red dot is, on the returned video, the closer the object. The power of the red dot is irrelevant.
Update: Oh, just realized; I have a "flat laser" - a normal red point laser that has a filter to it, so it beams out a flat long line. Using that causes you to see a "skyline" across the screen, with the highest point at where the closest object is.
I guess making video analyzing of such a line would be harder, but if possible, you could see everything on the X-axle, and not risk missing something like a wire in the air, that the pointer was not seeing :)