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How To Keep Your RealSense Sensors Alive

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August 30, 2021
Sensors

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Intel's announcement of the discontinuation of the RealSense division was both sudden and confusing. A week later, Intel's position from their official statements is still unclear. For roboticists and perception engineers who rely on RealSense sensors for their products and projects, the entire situation is quite frustrating. At Tangram Vision, we'd like to do our part to both clarify the current situation, and describe how we intend to assist those who rely on RealSense now and in the future.

What we know NOW about Intel RealSense

The initial information from Intel noted that the entire RealSense division was being shut down. Subsequently, additional information trickled out suggesting that the only items to be discontinued were the L515 compact LiDAR unit, the F450 facial authentication sensor, and the T265 tracking camera, with the stereo lines (D415, D435, D435i and D455) continuing in production.

The Intel RealSense L515 LiDAR camera, which is being discontinued immediately.

After a few days passed, Intel RealSense's CTO, Anders Grunnet-Jepsen, issued a clarifying statement that was mostly, but not entirely, clear. In that statement, he noted that indeed the L515 and T265 were being discontinued, while the D415, D435, D435i, and D455 would continue to be available. He also confirmed that the RealSense business unit was being wound down. However, his note stated that Intel intends to continue to support autonomous mobile robots with "future products....tailored to those applications" and stated that Intel will continue to "work to support" the open source RealSense SDK and provide new firmware updates.

What we think comes next for Intel RealSense

Based on the above statement, we believe that there is further clarification required, and we don't know if Intel will provide that further clarification. What follows is our best guess of what this last statement means for current users of Intel RealSense stereo cameras.

The dissolution of the RealSense business unit and the continued availability of the D415, D435, D435i, and D455 are incompatible events. While Intel's current position is that only the L515, D450, and T265 are being discontinued, we believe that the stereo units will follow suit shortly. Without an active business unit to support them, and with Intel's CEO Pat Gelsinger stating "Hey, there’s some good assets that we can harvest, but it doesn’t fit one of those six business units that I’ve laid out", the future looks dim for continued availability of any RealSense modules.

Therefore, our expectation is that an end-of-life announcement for the remaining RealSense cameras will arrive within the next six months. We believe this to be the case for the following reasons:

  • Current worldwide chip shortages have put pressure on supply chains for low-performing products, and any chip-making components required for RealSense that Intel could use elsewhere have likely been reallocated
  • Intel is likely fulfilling contractual obligations for any large accounts, and once those obligations are complete, will lack sufficient order volume to justify continued manufacture

Because the D415, D435, D435i, and D455 share many common components, it is possible that once components become too scarce to support four separate sensor models, the next announcement will be the discontinuation of the least similar model — the wide baseline D455. That sensor may soon thereafter be joined by the D415, leaving the D435 and D435i as the last RealSense models available before production volume and component availability become too low to justify continued production. At that point, we believe RealSense will be completely discontinued.

How To Keep Your RealSense and RealSense-Powered Products Alive

If you plan to continue to use Intel RealSense sensors for the near future, then there are a few areas you'll need to manage: sensor supply, sensor software, and, ultimately, replacing RealSense with a different sensor when it is no longer viable to support.

Sensor Supply

We believe that companies who choose to continue to use Intel RealSense should purchase as many spare units as is reasonably possible as soon as possible. We believe there is already a run on spare units from other companies, and that inventories will dwindle rapidly. Buy what you believe you will need to maintain your own supply chain for the period of time you'll need to source and integrate an alternative sensor.

Sensor Software

Intel's official statement was that they would "work to support" continued development of the RealSense SDK, and that they would provide firmware updates. Our interpretation of these statements is that there is very little commitment behind them. With the RealSense division being dissolved, any engineering resources in that division will be reallocated to other areas of Intel's business, and any support for RealSense software or firmware may be at the bare minimum required for ongoing operation of sensors in the wild.

Tangram Vision provides support for stabilizing RealSense software now and in the future. The Tangram Vision SDK roadmap features tools that simplify integrating and managing RealSense sensors. Within the Tangram Vision SDK, you will be able manage the following tasks:

  • Sensor integration (including RealSense) into robotics and other vision-enabled platforms
  • Sensor fusion between RealSense sensors, and between RealSense sensors and other sensors and sensing modalities
  • Sensor calibration for 1 to n RealSense sensors, as well as with other sensing modalities
  • Remote monitoring of RealSense sensor operation and health

The Tangram Vision SDK is actively maintained, and will continue to be improved and expanded.

For those engineers that either already use Rust, or plan to transition to Rust, we also maintain the open source RealSense-Rust library. This will allow you to use the current RealSense SDK in a Rust environment indefinitely.

Replacing RealSense With Different Sensors

Ultimately, we recommend that teams currently reliant on RealSense sensors start to explore alternatives to minimize the risk of disruption to their products and projects. There are many available alternatives (some of which we described in our editorial in The Robot Report). Again, Tangram Vision has created tools to ease the transition from RealSense to alternative 3D sensors.

Tangram Vision's Interactive Depth Sensor Visualizer

To instantly compare the field of view and effective range of RealSense depth sensors with other depth sensors, use our interactive depth sensor visualizer.

The Tangram Vision SDK roadmap includes depth sensor integration tools that allow you to hot swap Intel RealSense sensors with alternative depth sensing models to significantly simplify the process of transitioning away from RealSense.

RealSense: It's Been Real Nice

We can't end this post without giving the Intel RealSense team due appreciation for what they achieved, and what they provided to the robotics industry. Given their low cost, the RealSense line provided exceptional performance. Given the Tangram Vision team's past history developing the Structure Sensor and Structure Core, we also know that creating these depth sensors, bringing them to market, and keeping production lines running is no small task.

So, thank you to the Intel RealSense team for its contribution to the worlds of computer vision and robotics. Like many, we're sad to hear that the future for RealSense won't expand. We'll do our part to ensure that these incredible sensors can stay functional for years to come, so that those who have come to rely on them will be able to continue their progress as well.

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