The development of real-time 3-D underwater imaging is restricted by the huge hardware cost and the computational burden associated with a large number of transducers. In this paper, a low-complexity real-time 3-D sonar imaging system with a cross array is proposed. The low complexity, in both hardware cost and computational load, is achieved by an innovative method of signal processing in the far field and the advantages of the cross array in minimal transducer numbers. The method consists of two parts: a multifrequency (MF) algorithm for the transmitting process and a parallel subarray (PS) algorithm for the receiving beamforming.
The MF algorithm solves the real-time problem of the cross array by reducing the scanning time that is proportional to the number of transmissions. The PS algorithm improves the computational efficiency using a two-stage parallel and pipeline framework. The PS algorithm is an approximate method, and its precision is analyzed in this paper. The computational efficiency of the proposed method is compared with the direct method (DM) beamforming in both cross and planar arrays. A prototype, based on the innovative method, was designed and tested in pool and lake trials. The results demonstrate that the low-complexity system can satisfy the real-time requirement of 3-D underwater imaging applications with an acceptable imaging quality.