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A three-dimnensional vision system for on-line operation that aids a collision avoidance system for an industrial robot is developed. Because of the real-time requirement, the process that locates and describes the obstacles must be fast. To satisfy the safety requirement, the obstacle model should always contain the physical obstacle entirely. This condition leads to the bounding box description of the obstacle, which is simple for the computer to process. The image processing is performed by a Machine Intelligence Corporation VS-100 machine vision system. The control and object perception is performed by the developed software on a host Digital Equipment Corporation VAX 11/780 Computer. The resultant system outputs a file of the locations and bounding descriptions for each object found. When the system is properly calibrated, the bounding descriptions always completely envelop the obstacle. The response time is data-dependent. When using two cameras and processed on UNIX time sharing mode, the average response time will be less than 2 s if eight or fewer objects are present. When using all three cameras, the average response time will be less than 4 s if eight or fewer objects are present.