Machine vision represents a diverse and growing global market, one that can be difficult to keep up with, in terms of the latest technology, standards, and product developments, as they become available from hundreds of different organizations around the world.
If you are looking for an example of how fast the market moves, and how quickly trends and new technologies emerge, our Innovators Awards provides a good reference point. In 2015, we launched our first annual Innovators Awards program, which celebrates the disparate and innovative technologies, products, and systems found in the machine vision and imaging market. In comparing the products that received distinction in 2015 to this past year’s crop of honorees, it does not take long to draw some obvious conclusions. First, let’s start with the most noticeable, which was with the cameras that received awards.
In 2015, five companies received awards for cameras. These cameras performed various functions and offered disparate capabilities, including pixel shifting, SWIR sensitivity, multi-line CMOS time delay integration, high-speed operation, and high dynamic range operation. In 2018, 13 companies received awards for their cameras, but the capabilities and features of these cameras look much different.
CAMERAS THAT RECEIVED AWARDS IN 2018 OFFERED THE FOLLOWING FEATURES:
Polarization, 25GigE interface, 8K line scan, scientific CMOS sensor, USB 3.1 interface, fiber interface, embedded VisualApplets software, 3-CMOS prism design, and subminiature design. Like in 2015, a few companies were also honored for high-speed cameras, but overall, it is evident that most of the 2018 camera honorees are offering much different products than those from our inaugural year.
There are two other main categories that stick out, in terms of 2018 vs. 2015, the first of which is software products. In 2015, two companies received awards for their software—one for a deep learning software product and another for a machine learning-based quality control software. In 2018, eight companies received awards for software.
THESE SOFTWARE PRODUCTS OFFERED THE FOLLOWING FEATURES OR CAPABILITIES:
Deep learning (three honorees), data management, GigE Vision simulation, neural network software for autonomous vehicles, machine learning-based desktop software for autonomous vehicle vision system optimization, and a USB3 to 10GigE software converter.
Lastly, the category of embedded vision looked much different in 2018 than it did in 2015. In the embedded vision category—which I am combining with smart cameras due to overlap—there were two companies that received awards in 2015, both of which were for smart cameras that offered various capabilities. This year, however, there were 12 companies that were honored for their embedded vision innovations, for products that offered features including: embedded software running on Raspberry Pi, computer vision and deep learning hardware and software platform, embedded vision development kits, embedded computers, 3D bead inspection, as well as various smart cameras.
Throughout the other categories, there was equal or similar number of honorees from both years, but there were several interesting technologies or applications that products that popped up in 2018 offered. This includes a lens for virtual reality/augmented reality applications, a mobile hyperspectral camera, a 3D color camera, and various lighting products that targeted multispectral and hyperspectral imaging applications.
This is all to say that, when looking back to 2015 to today, machine vision technology has grown quite a bit. With the rapid pace of advancements, the growing needs of customers and end users, the miniaturization and smaller costs of components, and so on; it is exciting to think about what machine vision products in 2021 might look like.
As the plant floor has become more digitally connected, the relationship between robots and machine vision has merged into a single, seamless platform, setting the stage for a new generation of more responsive vision-driven robotic systems. BitFlow, Inc., a global innovator in frame grabbers used in industrial imaging, predicts vision-guided robots will be one of the most disruptive forces in all areas of manufacturing over the next decade.
"Since the 1960s robots have contributed to automation processes, yet they've done so largely blind," said Donal Waide, Director of Sales for BitFlow, Inc. "Vision-equiped robots are different. Now, just like a human worker, robots can see a specific part to validate whether it is being placed correctly in a pick and place application, for example. Cost savings will be realized since less hard fixturing is required and the robot is more flexible in its ability to locate a variety of different parts with the same hardware."
HOW ROBOTIC VISION WORKS
Using a combination of camera, cables, frame grabber and software, a vision system will identify a part, its orientation and its relationship to the robot. Next, this data is fed to the robot and motion begins, such as pick and place, assembly, screw driving or welding tasks. The vision system will also capture information that would be otherwise very difficult to obtain, including small cosmetic details that let the robot know whether or not the part is acceptable. Error-proofing reduces expensive quality issues with products. Self-maintenance is another benefit. In the event that alignment of a tool is off because of damage or wear, vision can compensate by performing machine offset adjustment checks on a periodic basis while the robot is running.
DUAL MARKET GROWTH
In should come as no surprise that the machine vision and robotic markets are moving in tandem. According to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), robot sales in North America last year surpassed all previous records. Customers purchased 34,904 total units, representing $1.896 billion in total sales. Meanwhile total machine vision transactions in North America increased 14.8%, to $2.262 billion. The automotive industry accounts for appoximately 50% of total sales.
THE ROLE OF FRAME GRABBERS
Innovations in how vision-guided robots perceive and respond to their environments are exactly what manufacturers are looking for as they develop automation systems to improve quality, productivity and cost efficiencies. These types of advancements rely on frame grabbers being paired with high-resolution cameras to digitize analog video, thus converting the data to a form that can be processed by software.
BitFlow has responded to the demands of the robotics industry by introducing frame grabbers based on the CoaXPress (CXP) machine vision standard, currently the fastest and most powerful interface on the market. In robotics applications, the five to seven meters restriction of a USB cable connection is insufficient. BitFlow CXP frame grabbers allow up to 100 meters between the frame grabber and the camera, without any loss in quality. To minimize cabling costs and complexity, BitFlow frame grabbers require only a single piece of coax to transmit high-speed data, as well as to supply power and send control signals.
BitFlow's latest model, the Aon-CXP frame grabber, is engineered for simplified integration into a robotics system. Although small, the Aon-CXP receives 6.25 Gb/S worth of data over its single link, almost twice the real world data rate of the USB3 Vision standard and significantly quicker than the latest GigE Vision data rates. The Aon-CXP is designed for use with a new series of single-link CXP cameras that are smaller, less expensive and cooler running than previous models, making them ideal for robotics.