P&IT: Are there other growth areas for high-speed in addition to machine vision?
Shikany: Outside of machine vision, for example in microscopy or a laboratory, it gets a little different though. I'm sure they'd like it, but are they going to be willing to pay for it — probably not. They need high resolution and other value drivers.
The consumer space is moving toward higher speed, however. Applications for the high frame rates available on cameras are popping up all over. YouTube people are doing all sorts of high frame rate cool things like blowing up watermelons. I think people are going to purchase faster cameras in the consumer space. How necessary is it? I guess the market will answer that.
The bottom line is that, especially in industry, it's always about the application.
P&IT: What other areas excite you about where cameras are going?
Shikany: The move toward 3D is one.
A lot of new technologies are coming for 3D vision. We've had Time of Flight (TOF) 3D vision, stereo 3D vision, and others.
There are several different ways to accomplish 3D imaging — we're seeing companies trying to innovate and we're hearing testimonials about the way they've found value in it. That's encouraging to me because when I started five years ago, 3D vision users were a small niche group. It was very specific when you would use it and it was very expensive, and not yet widely adopted. That's certainly changing and I think that's exciting,
P&IT: It would seem really useful for automated manufacturing and assembly to have 3D images to work with.
Shikany: Yes, absolutely, assembly's a great one.
Another is simulation: mapping environments in real time. Think about if you couple a 3D vision camera with virtual reality and augmented reality. That's really coming up now in terms of popularity. You come to a point where you have the world at your fingertips in terms of design. So, if I want to build a smart factory, I could say this is what I want it to look like. You could literally create that and walk around in it in a matter of a day or two with a skilled programmer. That will save cost and time — it'll create many efficiencies.
Another exciting area is the move toward embedded technology, which is a hot button issue now. For example, cheaper, smaller board-level cameras imbedded inside a camera in your smart phone. The embedded vision technology bridging over into the industrial realm is quite exciting right now. There are new applications, new ways to solve problems yet to be explored. We're seeing innovative concepts being displayed at trade shows, for example, in the field of robotics. Think of a robot arm — it would be real cool if that robot could see and sense its surroundings. If you were to say that a year ago, or even today to some extent, you'd need an ad-hoc solution where you'd strap a camera or multiple cameras onto it, using an after-market harness or some type of solution manufactured by other companies. But what if you could imbed that camera right in the robot arm? What if you could imbed the sensors and imagers at a high enough resolution and speed, with a software package attached to the imager? What if you could do all that inside the robot itself? That robot might have 10, 20, 50, 100 more uses because of the form factor difference and the capability difference. That's an example of industrial imbedded imaging that we're seeing explored by a bunch of different suppliers and researchers.
Autonomous vehicles are another example — you see imbedded imagers everywhere in new cars. Even standard equipment groups now have multiple cameras and sensors.
P&IT: Anything else?
Shikany: Those are the main areas in the general uptick in interest in vision and imagers. The growing variety of applications that are available now are because all these industrial companies — major players and even mid- and smaller-sized companies are interested. When you talk to them, they're interested in connecting their devices to grab hold of all the data available to them. They want to have all the data always available so they can better analyze, better plan, and better do preventative maintenance rather than emergency repairs. The smart factories and Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) trends that we're seeing in the marketplace — these all require data inputs. Vision and cameras are one very important and effective way of gathering that data.
All these major companies are sitting on their piles of cash looking to invest in new automation strategies and new factories. Vision sits on the ledge waiting to receive it. In my view, we're at the early stage of this process. There's still a lot to be figured out, for example, when do you use a vision sensor as opposed to a proximity sensor. These questions will all be answered in due time. Vision will get its share of the overall pie.