Friday, February 15, 2013

Off to Florida?

You've got to feel a bit sorry for our poor beleaguered European Editor. You see at around 9 am GMT today, he received a call from a close friend who had discovered some important information relating to his trip next week to the 21st annual AIA Business Conference in Orlando, Florida.

She informed him that she had heard on the television that a law introduced in Florida on January 1, 2013 now requires all persons who hold a license issued outside of the US to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) along with their national driving license.

Apparently, the new law says that -- without an IDP -- a driver is therefore driving without a valid license, and if stopped, law enforcement officers have the option of either arresting the driver and taking them to jail or giving the driver a citation with a mandatory court appearance.

Not wanting either option to happen to him, our European Editor walked down to his local Post Office to see if they might supply him with the relevant documentation.  Sadly, they weren't able to help, directing him to the nearest larger Post Office in Bedford, a town no more than five miles away.

Unfortunately, upon driving into this town, parking his car and walking into the establishment in question, he was told that only a few Post Offices were capable of dealing with such requests and the nearest one was, in fact, in Luton -- over forty miles away.

Somewhat peeved, our European Editor drove home to telephone the Automobile Association (AA) who confirmed that the only way to obtain the IDP was to present his existing UK photocard license and passport at the Post Office in Luton.

After an hour long drive, he finally reached his destination. But alas, there was more bad news in store for our editorial friend.

That's right. You see, the folks at the Post Office in Luton informed him that -- in addition to his photocard license and passport -- he would also be required to present what in the UK is known as a "Counterpart Driving License (CDT)," a small green piece of paper that appears to all intents and purposes to contain exactly the same information as the photocard license itself. Our Editor, naturally enough, had left his CDT at home.

Needless to say, it took most of the day before our European Editor was actually issued with his brand spanking new IDP. He can now rest assured that nothing particularly nasty will happen to him should he be stopped by the police while attending the AIA Conference.

But he needn't have worried. Because after checking on the Internet just hours ago, I have discovered that the Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles has now issued a statement saying that the recently enacted IDP requirement has been suspended pending further study.

All apparently due to the fact that the requirement may violate the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (1949), an international treaty to which the United States is a signatory.

See you in Florida!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sorting seeds in Mongolia

It's unlikely that you will have ever heard of the Shandong Luhua Group. Yet this rather substantial Chinese enterprise produces no less than 600,000 tons of peanut oil and 100,000 tons of sunflower seed oil each year.

Needless to say, with production volumes like that, it's hardly surprising that its products have been exported to numerous countries, providing it with revenues in the millions.

The company itself has a number of subsidiaries -- including one in Inner Mongolia that hails by the incredibly lengthy name of the Inner Mongolia Luhua Sunflower Seeds Oil Company Limited.

The reason that I mention this particular plant in Inner Mongolia is simply because of its size. If you take a look at the picture below, you will see what I mean.

Now you might think that such a plant would employ a lot of people to perform tedious manual operations to check the size and the quality of the sunflower seeds before they are processed to make the oil.

But that's where you'd be wrong. It's for certain that many of the processes are automated, not in the least the sorting of the seeds according to their color.

The picture below, for example, testifies to that fact. Taken from inside the plant itself, it appears to show a plethora of color sorting machines from Anhui Jiexun Optoelectronic Technology (Hefei, Anhui, China). This company has produced an array of such systems to automate the sorting of all sorts of agricultural products -- including rice, cereals, beans, nuts and tea!

Now for those of you still reeling from the news that Vision 2013 has been cancelled, let me remind you that Vision China 2013 will still be held between October 16-18 this year at the China International Exhibition Center (Beijing, China).

Perhaps now is the perfect time for those of us who manufacture and market components used in vision systems to look a little further afield for new opportunities. China might be just the place.

Friday, February 8, 2013

What's good for the goose

First staged in 1901, the Chicago Auto Show is the largest auto show in North America and has been held more times than any other auto exposition on the continent.

Since 1901, a lot of changed in the automobile market, and a lot has changed at the show too. In the past, to catch a glimpse of the latest introductions from Ford, DeLorean or Cord, you physically had to attend the show. But things have changed. Thanks to the marvel of digital imaging technology, now that’s not even necessary.

That's because the organizers of the show have installed an array of webcams from TrueLook Professional Webcam Systems (Winston-Salem, NC, USA) to give those unfortunate souls who can’t travel to Chicago a live HD view from the floor of the show.

Not only are the TrueLook webcams accessible via the Chicago Auto Show’s website, users can simultaneously view and control them as well, aiming and zooming them to see the over 1,000 vehicles on display from their favorite auto manufacturers.

The webcams also let users save their photos, either to their computer or in an online photo album. Alternatively, they can be shared Facebook or Twitter. According to TrueLook, these interactive features, along with the ability to control the motorized cameras, have led to an increase in visitors to the website.

While the deployment of such cameras at an auto show might have a lot of benefits, I can’t really see the advantages of such a system at one of our own industry trade shows that focus on vision system design.

You see, visitors to our trade shows don't just come to stand and stare at a new USB3 enabled CMOS imager or the attractive model that stands next to it, but to interact with company representatives to discover whether any of the products on offer might solve a particular challenge that they are facing as systems integrators.

I can't help but think, however, that perhaps it's a little ironic that some of the camera technology on display at such shows has not been more effectively deployed by the show’s organizers in the same way that it has at the Chicago Auto Show!

The webcams at the Chicago Auto Show can be viewed here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The white stuff

When I was a small child, I used to really enjoy the sight of snow in winter. And I fondly remember (as a toddler, of course!) the winter of 1962 when the UK was hit by a massive snow storm that covered the entire country in up to six feet of snow.

These days I'm not so fond of the winter and the misery that ensues after a big snowstorm. Inevitably, after such an event, I have to shovel my drive for hours just to take my car out. That's right. Perhaps it's my age, but the very thought of a snowstorm now sends shivers down my spine.

There are those, however, who still clearly enjoy the snow. And Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT, USA), is one of them.

In fact, he’s so enamored by the snow that he has developed a rather unique instrument for capturing images of snowflakes and measuring their speed as they fall.

The so-called Multi-Angle Snowflake Camera (MASC) was developed in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the university with support from the US Army, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.

In operation, it takes 9 to 37 micron resolution stereographic photographs of falling snow from three angles, while simultaneously measuring their speed. The cameras are triggered by a vertically stacked bank of sensitive IR motion sensors and the speed is derived from successive triggers. The instrument itself is sensitive to snowflake sizes ranging from 100 micrometers to 30,000 micrometers.

If you are interested in buying the camera, you will be delighted to hear that it can now be purchased through Fallgatter Technologies, a spin-off company from the university, that is, naturally enough, headed up by Dr. Garrett himself.

The company’s first delivery was made to the US Army for the serious purpose of researching into avalanches at Mammoth Mountain, which is situated west of the town of Mammoth Lakes, California.

Having developed such an innovative camera to capture images of snowflakes as they fall, perhaps now Dr. Garrett could turn his attention to creating an inexpensive labor saving device that would help clear my drive after the white stuff has fallen.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Pez head

Pez is more than just candy. That's right. It's "interactive candy" that is both enjoyable to eat and fun to play with. And that's partly because dispensers with new characters on them are introduced regularly.

But there are some Pez candy dispensers that you won't be able to buy in any of the supermarkets, mass merchandisers, variety stores, drug stores, convenience stores, toy chains and gift stores that sell them throughout the US and Canada.

That's because the heads on these particular dispensers have been custom built by folks working for the rather oddly named company, the 'Hot Pop Factory' as holiday gifts for the employees of one of their clients.

To do just that, the chaps at the Hot Pop Factory first scanned all 32 of the employees' heads in 3-D using the Microsoft Kinect camera. Astoundingly, they convinced everyone to allow them digitize their heads for "a mysterious research project", despite a lot of protesting.

After the digital 3-D models of the subjects were generated, the scans were patched up with MeshMixer, a free software tool that can be used to make 3-D models.

After some more modeling work to add a connection from the heads to the candy dispensers, they were ready to print.  And many hours of printing later, the Hot Pop Factory had produced the 32 custom built heads that were then ready to install on the candy dispensers after the existing ones had been removed.

From the reaction of the individuals who received their holiday Pez dispensers, it would appear that the whole exercise was a huge success.

However, I hope that my own publishing company doesn't decide to reward our staff with similar custom-built Pez dispensers this coming holiday season. Having just returned from hours in the dentist's chair having root canal treatment, I can't say the thought of eating any Pez candy seems like such a sweet idea at the present time.

You can watch a video of the Kinect in action here.