National Instruments' NI Week in Austin, TX was a great chance to learn how designers of vision-based systems used the company's LabVIEW graphical programming software to ease the burden of software development.
But as useful as such software is, I couldn't help but think that it doesn't come close to addressing the bigger issues faced by system developers at a much higher, more abstract level.
You see, defining the exact nature of any inspection problem is the most taxing issue that system integrators face. And only when that has been done can they set to work choosing the lighting, the cameras, and the computer, and writing the software that is up to the task.
It's obvious, then, that software like LabVIEW only helps tackle one small part of this problem. But imagine if it could also select the hardware, based simply on a higher-level description of an inspection task. And then optimally partition the software application across such hardware.
From chatting to the NI folks in Texas, I got the feeling that I'm not alone in thinking that this is the way forward. I think they do, too. But it'll probably be a while before we see a LabVIEW-style product emerge into the market with that kind of functionality built in.
In the meantime, be sure to check out our October issue (coming online soon!) to see how one of NI's existing partners -- Coleman Technologies -- has used the LabVIEW software development environment to create software for a system that can rapidly inspect dinnerware for flaws.
Needless to say, the National Instruments software didn't choose the hardware for the system. But perhaps we will be writing an article about how it could do so in the next few years.