I saw an amazing new 3d vision tool at the Robot and Vision Show today. It is the IFM Defector PMD 3DD.
This device is a 64X48 pixel distance sensor. It operates by the time of flight principle. A pulse of light infra-red light is emitted by the device which bounces off of an object in the field of view and returns to the device through a lens.
Each pixel measures the time required for the light to make the round trip. By this way, it produces a 3D image of the object in front of it. The unit can be configured to output calculated quantities like max height, or volume.
It can also output the entire distance array through a TCP/IP connection. In addition to its capabilities, its list price is amazing at only $1450!