Thursday, March 8, 2012

The problem with vision

It's a common phrase amongst those folks in the Vision Systems Design world that the first five years in the business are the hardest.

Now the reason for this is quite simple. To effectively build a vision system for a particular customer demands that an engineer at a system integrator must have a wealth of experience at his or her disposal.

That's because vision systems aren't trivial to build. System integrators must first gain a very detailed understanding of the specific inspection task that needs to be performed by the system before they even go near a keyboard to use their knowledge in specifying the hardware and software that may be suitable for the job.

Now while the system integrator is usually well aware of the specific set of questions that he needs to ask his potential customer before embarking on a project, oftentimes the customer in question will have no idea why he is asking them.

That's because the hardware and the software that might be needed for such a system are highly dependent on a number of factors that the customer may not realize are vitally important considerations.

So what tends to happen is that -- in some instances at least -- the system integrator gets involved in an exercise that is almost as painful as extracting teeth from the potential customer before he can get to work developing a system.

Usually, of course, after the specifics of the inspection and the conditions under which a component must operate have been determined, it's plain sailing -- but not always.

Finally understanding the capabilities of the vision system, the customer may then decide that he or she could potentially extend these capabilities to capture even more data from such a system, which could be used elsewhere in his or her production process.

The hapless system integrator may be then called upon to modify a system that is almost completed to perform a bunch of additional tasks for which it wasn't initially intended.

Needless to say, this all costs money. And while most system integrators are happy to make an additional buck for such work, they do so while cursing the customer for not thinking things through at the outset.

Now it would be wonderful if it were possible to create a generic template of questions that system integrators could ask their customers to fill out prior to any initial meeting, a move that could avoid any potential strife.

Unfortunately, due to the highly application-specific nature of the vision systems game, I don't really believe that's a viable option. Unless we can create an artificial intelligence (AI) system to extract the experience from those with years of industry background. Surely that would be a worthy goal for any of our imaging and vision associations to have a crack at producing.

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