New Sensor Puts Robot Vision Within Reach


September 25, 2013

Last month, ECE students and faculty launched a kickstarter campaign to help push their work into the hands of the masses. Evolving from a long history of embedded cameras as part of the CMUcam project, Pixy is yet another example of the entrepreneurial nature of CMU students. What started as a research project with Masters student Scott Robinson, the kickstarter campaign has already exceeded expectations by appearing in popular media like Gizmodo, Hack-a-day and EE Times while raising more than $210,000 of crowd funding. Pixy is a small camera about half the size of a business card that can detect objects that you “train” it to detect. Training is accomplished by holding the object in front of Pixy’s lens and pressing a button. Pixy then finds objects with similar color signatures in the image using a dedicated dual-core processor that can process images at 50 frames per second. Pixy can report its findings, which include the sizes and locations of all detected objects, through one of several interfaces: UART serial, SPI, I2C, or digital or analog I/O. Pixy can detect hundreds of objects from seven different color signatures.

Pixy is a partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and a small Austin-based company, Charmed Labs. The goal of Pixy is to provide a smart camera sensor that is easy enough to use and priced low enough, so that it can be used by a wider audience, including educators and hobbyists that currently use microcontrollers such as the popular Arduino. Pixy can connect directly to the Arduino with a simple cable. Since Pixy has its own processor, it does not bog down the host CPU with image processing tasks.

When asked about Pixy, faculty advisor Anthony Rowe said “We tried to make Pixy as easy to use as possible. We think this will make it popular with the educational robotics and maker communities. Its the type of sensor that can open up new and creative directions for many of the projects our students frequently undertake.”

“We’ve opened up the design by using the Open Source Hardware licensing model. You get source code, schematics, board layouts, everything,” said Rich LeGrand, Charmed Labs President. Use of the Open Source Hardware licensing has been growing in DIY robotics. “We expect almost everyone to use Pixy as-is, but we also hope that by opening up the design, others will be able to easily build on Pixy for their application,” he added.

About Charmed Labs:
Charmed Labs LLC (CL) is a small company in Austin, Texas, which focuses on providing advanced embedded solutions for educational use. CL’s products have been used by thousands of students in universities, high schools, middle schools, and by hobbyists worldwide. Previous partnerships with between CMU and Charmed Labs include the GigaPan robotic camera mount ( and the Telepresence Robotics Kit (TeRK). For additional information, visit

Pictured above: Pixy being taught. When color LED matches the color of the object, release button. Pixy will then find objects that match.

Related People:

Anthony Rowe