Friday, November 2, 2012

Visions of the future

Twenty five years ago, a machine vision system that performed a simple inspection task may have cost $100,000. Today, a similar system based around a smart camera can perform the same task for $3,000.

The decrease in the price of the sensors, processors and lighting components used to manufacture such systems has been driven by the widespread deployment of those components in high-volume consumer products. And that trend is likely to continue into the future.

As the cost of the hardware of such systems has decreased, so too have the capabilities of integrated software development environments. As such, rather than hand code their systems from scratch, designers can now choose from a variety of software packages with large libraries of image processing functions which they can use to program their systems.

The combination of inexpensive hardware and easy to use programming tools has enabled OEM integrators to develop systems in a much shorter period of time than ever before, offering them the possibility of developing several systems each year for customers in a variety of industries.

The result of the decreased price of hardware and the ease of use of many software packages has also allowed many sophisticated end users to take on the role once performed by the systems integrator, developing their own systems in house rather than turn to outside expertise.

Over the next ten years, engineers can expect to see more of the same. As the system hardware decreases in price, however, they can also expect to see companies develop more highly specialized processors, sensors and lighting systems in an attempt to differentiate their product lines from those of their competition.

On the software front, developers will continue to refine the capabilities of their software packages as well as adding greater capabilities while driving down the cost of deployment by offering subsets of their full development environments in the form of software apps to their customers.

As 3-D hardware and software becomes more prevalent, designers will also be challenged to understand how capturing and processing images in 3-D might enable them to develop more complex systems to tackle their vision systems applications.

In the December issue of Vision Systems Design, I'll be bringing out my crystal ball to see if I can predict some more emerging trends in the field of machine vision. Be sure to pick up your copy when it lands on your doormat.

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