This paper presents a real-time visual sensing system, which is created to achieve high-speed three-dimensional (3D) motion tracking of microscopic spherical particles in aqueous solutions with nanometer resolution. The system comprises a complementary metal–oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) camera, a field programmable gate array (FPGA), and real-time image processing programs. The CMOS camera has high photosensitivity and superior SNR. It acquires images of pixels at a frame rate of up to 10,000 frames per second (fps) under the white light illumination from a standard 100 W halogen lamp. The real-time image stream is downloaded from the camera directly to the FPGA, wherein a 3D particle-tracking algorithm is implemented to calculate the 3D positions of the target particle in real time. Two important objectives, i.e., real-time estimation of the 3D position matches the maximum frame rate of the camera and the timing of the output data stream of the system is precisely controlled, are achieved. Two sets of experiments were conducted to demonstrate the performance of the system. First, the visual sensing system was used to track the motion of a 2 μm polystyrene bead, whose motion was controlled by a three-axis piezo motion stage. The ability to track long-range motion with nanometer resolution in all three axes is demonstrated. Second, it was used to measure the Brownian motion of the 2 μm polystyrene bead, which was stabilized in aqueous solution by a laser trapping system.
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