Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June issue: vision-guided robots, software, and Three Mile Island

Our June issue is now available on our website. The articles in it point to some of the many ways in which machine vision is evolving.

I glimpsed this potential in 1982, when I watched the feed from the first remote video camera lowered into a reactor vessel at Three Mile Island, after the nuclear accident had destroyed the reactor core in 1979. It took several years to develop the imaging equipment for this first foray and, in the years that followed, many cameras and robots would gather information about damage and perform cleanup operations in highly radioactive areas of the plant. Here's a picture of Rover, developed with Carnegie Mellon University.

Although robots were not then sophisticated enough to perform major operations—and stereo vision was practically a dream—the future of vision-guided robots was obvious. Some colleagues and I wrote a history of the cleanup, including the robotic and imaging technologies that were used. You can download a PDF of the history published by the Electric Power Research Institute by clicking HERE.

Remotely operated vehicles are now playing an increasing role in other crises. Our cover story in the June issue, for example, shows how 3-D displays can help remote operators in the military safely handle and dispose of explosive devices using robots.

Another article explains how single-sensor image fusion technology could enable simpler and more effective imaging of potential threats in security and defense operations.

Machine vision is not always on the front line of environmental and political challenges, however. Researchers from the University of Ilmenau in Germany are using image processing techniques to evaluate the quality of wheat after it is harvested.

And, as contributing editor Winn Hardin explains, manufacturers are using other machine vision techniques ensure that the steel tubes produced for oil and gas production are of the highest quality.

This broadening range of biomedical, robotics, military, and aerospace applications is leading software vendors to expand the functionality of their products beyond simple measurement functions, as editor Andy Wilson writes in his Product Focus article on machine vision software.

Indeed, new opportunities for machine vision and image processing systems are occurring every year. To take advantage of these developments, however, suppliers of machine vision systems will have to look outside the box of conventional industrial manufacturing and into niche applications that span the gamut from agriculture to space exploration.

1 comment:

  1. Your summary of the Three Mile Island clean-up was fascinating. And your editorial about the role Machine Vision is playing in "daring to go where no man" can -- i.e. "Hurt Locker" to radioactive sites to the depths of the ocean -- was quite timely.