Friday, November 18, 2011

Smart cards and 3-D imaging

Traveling to Europe can be an exhilarating experience. The chance to make contact with the Old World and its customs can be both delightful and enchanting. But it can also be frustrating, especially for visitors from the United States.

My visit to VISION 2011 in Stuttgart was no exception. Stopping off to catch up with my brother in the UK after the show, I discovered that the many (petrol) gas stations in the country were unable to accept my credit cards at the pump due to the fact that they had not been enabled with a so-called "chip and PIN."

That's right. In the UK, at least, it's common for credit and debit cards to come equipped with an embedded microprocessor which is interrogated by any number of automated terminals to provide goods and services once the user has entered a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that is uniquely associated with the card.

As frustrated as I was by the inability of the gas pumps to accept my chip-less card, my brother Dave saw the beasts as just a small step toward a completely automated future -- one in which vision systems could play an important role.

You see, having spent the past three days trawling around the VISION 2011 show, he had come across many companies that were developing 3-D vision systems. And while some of these were to be used in rather specific bin-picking applications or in capturing images of traffic on German highways, others could be used to capture images of the human body.

Capturing such images, Dave said, could create an enormous market far bigger than the field of machine vision -- especially if such 3-D images of the body could then be made small enough that they could be downloaded onto the memory of a credit-card-sized device.

Imagine, he inferred, if a complete image of an individual's body were to be encapsulated in such a way. Gone would be the need to wander around a store to search for an item of clothing that fits. Upon entering the store, a computer system would simply interrogate a user's card to identify an individual by his size and highlight where appropriate clothes could be found.

Medical professionals could benefit too. Upon entering a doctor's surgery, the current image of an individual's body could be immediately compared to a past image contained on the individual's credit card, providing doctors with an instant indication of any dramatic charges to body size that might indicate any medical problems.

Dave believes that there's enormous potential for such technology. But as much as he believes that such devices might make our lives so much easier in the future, I only wish I had one of those existing European chip and PIN cards today so that I might have been able to top up the tank at the gas station.

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