Intelligent autonomous mobile robots must be able to sense and recognize 3D indoor space where they live or work. However, robots are frequently situated in cluttered environments with various objects hard to be robustly perceived. Although the monocular and binocular vision sensors have been widely used for mobile robots, they suffer from image intensity variations, insufficient feature information and correspondence problems. In this paper, we propose a new 3D sensing system, in which the laser-structured-lighting method is basically utilized because of the robustness on the nature of the navigation environment and the easy extraction of feature information of interest. The proposed active trinocular vision system is composed of the flexible multi-stripe laser projector and two cameras arranged with a triangular shape. By modeling the laser projector as a virtual camera and using the trinocular epipolar constraints, the matching pairs of line features observed into two real camera images are established, and 3D information from one-shot image can be extracted on the patterned scene. For robust feature matching, here we propose a new correspondence matching technique based on line grouping and probabilistic voting. Finally, a series of experimental tests is performed to show the simplicity, efficiency, and accuracy of this proposed sensor system for 3D environment sensing and recognition. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.