Learning from the past

It is difficult to believe that it has been nearly 20 years since the founding of Vision Systems Design magazine.

Andy Wilson

It is difficult to believe that it has been nearly 20 years since the founding of Vision Systems Design magazine. Like other high-technology products, this magazine was founded as a spin-off (from our sister publication Laser Focus World) when the publisher realized that there was demand from both advertisers and readers for a magazine focused on machine vision and image processing.

While acting as Executive Editor of Computer Design magazine, I was asked whether I would consider heading the launch of the new endeavor. Having previous experience in editing Electronic Imaging magazine in the 1980s—a magazine that may well have been ahead of its time—I jumped at the idea.

After working diligently formulating the editorial content, our first issue of Vision Systems Design appeared in 1996. Looking back on that first issue, many of the products mentioned in the articles—machine vision software, frame grabbers, and solid-state cameras—remain as important today as they were nearly 20 years ago. However, some of the subject matter—neural networks, optical computing and fuzzy logic—have yet to be adopted in many machine vision systems.

Just as vision products and technologies have evolved over the past 20 years, so too have the companies that pioneered digital image processing. While many such as Alacron, Sony and Matrox continue to be successful, others such as Imaging Technology, Northeast Robotics and Kodak's sensor and high speed camera divisions have been acquired by other companies. Sadly, some of the most innovative companies, such as Datacube and Vicom, are no longer in business.

Rather than chart the past 20 years of the machine vision business in this, our 200th issue, we have taken a different approach as you will see on page 23 of this issue. Because many of the most significant advances in imaging technology were pioneered over the last century, it is perhaps more important to examine how the advances many take for granted today were years in development. In taking this approach, several historical trends emerge.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of the early pioneers were physicists and inventors who were given the freedom to develop original ideas while working alone or at universities, research institutes and R&D Labs of large corporations. Although many of these ideas and technologies were not realized as commercial products until decades later, the importance of funding research plays just as important a role today as it did then. One notable example of such research is the CCD which, although invented in 1972, was not widely adopted in solid-state cameras for a number of years.

When such technologies are adopted, they can have a very disruptive effect. Of the companies that produced tube-based products for imaging, very few remain. Needless to say, the adoption of solid-state imagers had the same effect on companies producing tube-based cameras as the introduction of high-speed multicore processors had on those making special purpose pipelined image processing hardware. Those unwilling (or unable) to transition their product lines were doomed to fail.

Andy WilsonAndy Wilson, Editor in Chief
andyw@pennwell.com

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