Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy holidays!

As the holiday season approaches once more, it is time again for the publisher, editors and hard working sales representatives at Vision Systems Design to take a well deserved break from our labors until the New Year comes sneaking around.

Personally, I'm looking forward to these holidays and the ritual of waking up eagerly on Christmas morning to see what delightful pieces of high-technology equipment that Papa Noël may have deposited beneath the resplendent $40 Christmas tree which stands proudly erect in my living room.

Perhaps this year, I might be elated to find that one of my generous friends, relatives or work colleagues has brought me a new camera or piece of video equipment with which I can deploy to capture the thrilling magic of the holidays. Before doing so, however, you can be sure that I will look up the particular specification of the imagers used in them to discover exactly what line pairs per millimeter that they can resolve!

But even if I don't receive any new high-technology items this year, I can be almost one hundred per cent certain that someone will have bought me a new pair of cotton socks and some underwear.

Any fathers amongst our readership will recognize the importance of such presents, since hardworking engineers and editors like me rarely have time to buy such items of loathing (Surely, clothing? -- Ed.) during the course of the year!

What ever presents I receive, one thing is for sure. Come Christmas day, I will be sitting down with friends and family to tuck into a nicely stuffed bird, accompanied by a plethora of roast potatoes, sprouts and cranberry sauce. Not to mention the canapés, aperitifs and petit fours that I plan to wash down with some mulled wine.

Having satiated myself, I may well take a little rest on the couch to watch the endless variety of intriguing variety shows that will undoubtedly be broadcast on television this holiday season.

It might sound like a quiet time for some, but for me, it's a great respite from the hurly-burly world of publishing that consumes so much of my existence during the rest of the year.

Enough said. On behalf of the entire team here at Vision Systems Design, I would like to thank those folks in the industry that have supported our efforts over the past year through advertising, as well as those that have taken the time and trouble to discuss the vision systems that they have developed with our editors for the benefit of our readers.

I sincerely hope that next year will bring you and your families, as well as the companies that you work for the good fortune and prosperity that you deserve. Have a wonderful holiday season. I hope your bird tastes as good as mine.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Balloon vision

Anyone who has ever attended the birthday party of a small child will know that at some point in the proceedings an event will occur that inevitably upsets one of more of the children present.

And so it was when Dave Wilson, our beleaguered European Editor visited the small sleepy hamlet of Steeple Claydon in Buckinghamshire, England last weekend to attend the birthday party of the daughter of a close friend.

Towards the end of the party, the birthday girl's helium filled balloon was let loose from its moorings by another child at the party, only to ascend to the 50ft high ceiling of the seventeenth century village hall where the party was being held.

Seeing the lack of disappointment on the child's face, our European editor strode off into the village hall kitchen to ask if any of the adults present might know of any innovative means by which the rogue balloon could be brought down from its lofty heights.

Sadly, most of them shook their heads in despair. One suggested waiting until the balloon deflated. Another suggested hiring a very long ladder. No-one was able to offer any practical suggestions to the conundrum at all.

Upon returning to the main hall, our European Editor was somewhat taken aback to discover that the balloon in question was lying on the floor in the hands of the father of the child, who proceeded to attach a weight to it before passing it back to his daughter.

Needless to say, our European Editor was absolutely intrigued to discover how such a feat had been accomplished and approached the father to discuss the means that he had employed to retrieve the balloon from such a height.

Well, I must tell you, the solution was rather ingenious. The child's father had taken a small, yet rather heavy packet of the children's candy and wrapped it with a voluminous amount of double-sided sticky tape. Having done so, he pitched the projectile directly at the balloon to which it affixed itself. Naturally enough, after it had done so, the laden balloon then descended rapidly to the floor of the village hall!

The retrieval of a balloon from the ceiling of a village hall might at first appear to have little to do with the subject of vision systems design. But those with years of experience in the industry will see it differently.

You see, the solution to the thorny problem of how to retrieve the balloon was only derived through an indirect and creative thought process, using reasoning that was not immediately obvious. And it's that sort of lateral thinking that also sets the successful companies in the vision systems design business aside from the ones that are not.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Visions of burgers

An average fast-food restaurant spends $135,000 every year in costs to employ individuals to produce hamburgers. But all that could soon become a thing of the past if the engineers at Momentum Machines (San Francisco, CA, USA) have anything to do with it.

For the engineers there are working on developing a robotic system that can do everything those employees can presently do, except better. Indeed, they are claiming that with their new robotic system in place, the labor savings will enable future restaurants to offer "gourmet quality" burgers at fast-food prices.

The robotic system will be able to offer custom meat grinds for every single customer. So if you want a patty with one third pork and two thirds bison ground after you place your order, that won't be a problem. Aside from mixing up and cooking the meat, the system can also slice toppings like tomatoes and pickles immediately before it places the slices onto a burger, providing customers with the freshest burger possible.

The result of all of this, at least according to the company, is that the consumer will be presented with a product that is more consistent and more sanitary. And since the system will be able to produce 360 hamburgers per hour, there will be more than enough to go around!

While it all might sound a bit far fetched, the team at Momentum Machines has an impressive background. They were trained in mechanical engineering, control systems, and physics at institutions such as Berkeley, Stanford, UCSB and Utah University. And their work experience includes firms such as iRobot, NASA, Sandia National Labs, Semiconductor Technology Associates and Tesla.

They are being advised in their endeavors by Don Fox, the CEO of Firehouse Subs and 2011 National Restaurant News Operator of the year, and The Culinary Edge, a highly esteemed restaurant consulting group. Investment capital is being provided by Lemnos Labs.

Now the results of such a system will clearly have a great impact on the folks who presently work in fast-food chains. So the noble minded folks at Momentum Machines aim to help out those who may need to "transition" to a new job as a result of their technology by offering discounted technical training to any former line cook of a restaurant that deploys the new system.

If you have a degree or two, on the other hand, you might even consider working for the company itself. Currently, it is looking to hire a mechatronics engineer as well as a machine vision specialist to further the development of the system. So if you know anything about vision systems design and love a good hamburger, you know where to go.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Passing of a legend

Dr. Bryce E. Bayer, the former Eastman Kodak scientist who invented the standard color filter pattern that bears his name, has died.

Aged 83, Bayer died on November 13 in Bath, Maine. According to a report in the New York Times, the cause of Bayer's death was a long illness related to dementia.

In Bayer-based color imagers, pixels on an image sensor are covered with a mosaic of red, green, and blue filters. In the Bayer pattern, 50% of the pixels are green, 25% are red, and 25% are blue. A technique called Bayer demosaicing is used to generate the red, green and blue values of each pixel to obtain a useful image from sensors that employ the Bayer filter.

The American scientist chose to use twice as many green pixels as red or blue to mimic the resolution and the sensitivity to green light of the human eye.

Today, there are other techniques that are used to produce color images. One such technique uses a prism to split light into three components that are then imaged by three separate sensors. Another uses a layered design where each point on the sensor array has photosensitive receptors for all three primary colors.

Despite these advances, the Bayer filter -- which was patented when he worked for Eastman Kodak in 1976 -- is the one that is most commonly found in most consumer cameras, camcorders, and scanners to create color images.

The staff of Vision Systems Design magazine would like to express our sincere condolences to Dr. Bayer's family.

He will be remembered as one of the greatest pioneers of digital imaging technology.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dummies get smart

Any fan of the British TV science fiction series Dr. Who will be only too familiar with one of his oldest arch enemies, a race of creatures called the Autons -- life-sized living showroom dummies that stagger about the streets blowing up anything in their path using weapons concealed within their hands.

When they first appeared on the show back in the 1970s, the Autons created quite a stir amongst the Dr. Who fan base. Despite the fact that they did not look particularly realistic, there was something quite terrifying about their dumb, robotic like movements and expressionless faces that struck fear into the audience at the time.

Since the 1970s, robotics technology has, of course, come a long way. While it might have seemed inconceivable back then that showroom dummies might one day be equipped with any technology to make them more lifelike, or indeed, more intimidating, today it's almost expected of them!

The folks at Kee Square (Milan, Italy) and Almax (Mariano Comense, Italy) a leading manufacturer of mannequins would surely be the first to agree.

For just recently the two companies took the wraps off a new mannequin that embraces an intelligent analytical vision system that can help shop owners across the world "observe" and analyze who is attracted to items in their stores and reveal important details about them such as their age range, gender and race.

The mannequin itself has a camera installed in its head that captures the facial features of people passing through a store -- data which is then analyzed by software to provide statistical and contextual information about them to the store owners. The embedded software can also provide data such as the number of people passing in front of a window and at what times of day they did so.

Fortunately for store customers, the new mannequins are not quite as sophisticated as the Autons in Dr. Who. Although they are somewhat more attractive, they are not, for example, able to move. Nor do they come equipped with any sort of weaponry such as ray guns with which to inflict harm upon innocent shoppers.

But perhaps the best feature about them is that they are made of shock-proof polystyrene and finished with water based paints. That means that when the time comes for them to retire they can be easily recycled into something more useful.

More information on the mannequins can be found here. More information on Dr. Who can be found here.