Cameras are still an important technology feature in manufacturing and inspection applications, but they are also increasingly valuable in non-traditional sectors. As part of June’s OEM Camera Directory & Guide, we look at three factors driving imaging tools: speed, resolution, and software.

Figure 1. The SLAM-algorithm system was tested on a PR2 robot, shown above. A map and its details, such as wall edges, were used as a reference for the robotic navigation. (Image courtesy of Hordur Johannsson, CSAIL/MIT)
Industrial cameras still serve the usual inspection tasks, like making sure that labels are placed on the appropriate dimensions of a bottle, or confirming that automotive parts are free of cracks or defects. Machine-vision- quality cameras, however, are becoming a key component in other nonmanufacturing areas where high-quality images are still required, including medical applications, transportation, and surveillance.

Microscope cameras, for example, now have the capability to measure the size and shape of cells. Surveillance devices offer 3D renderings of targets, and have the technology to distinguish human faces from photographs. Other camera systems spot braking vehicles, collect speeds, and analyze traffic flow rates.

Vision is also an essential feature in the development of more advanced and autonomous robot control. Rather than being told where to go, today’s robots understand their environment and look for objects on their own.

A system being developed by researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), for example, uses Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) technology. A robotic algorithm builds three-dimensional maps, with no human input. As the robot travels through an unexplored area, a low-cost video camera and an infrared-depth sensor scan the surroundings, and update the map as it learns pieces of its environment (see Figure 1).

Whether a vision customer is a manufacturer seeking inspection help, a military agency looking to map out an area, or a city council trying to understand highway traffic patterns, three technology areas are critical to today’s customer needs: high speed, high resolution, and customizable imaging software.


Figure 2. A camera system consisting of seven GigE devices inspects for surface blemishes, contour flaws, and thickness. The system has 13 axes of motion.
With imaging technology, high speed is important not only in production and manufacturing, but also in other nontraditional activities: monitoring intruders, recognizing features within a room, and analyzing traffic, to name a few.

The quality of Complementary Metal- Oxide Semiconductor, or CMOS, chips has increased dramatically, according to John Morse, senior market analyst at the Wellingborough, England-based IMS Research, and they contribute to improved speed — especially compared to the more traditionally used CCD chips. Although CCD sensors still have their place, he says, new camera products increasingly incorporate CMOS sensors. The growth in CMOS chip quality is valuable for non-traditional applications, like the monitoring of a busy traffic area, where speedy processing is essential.

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