Embracing new technologies

Full exploitation of machine-vision products is stymied by human nature and a reluctance to share experience.

Th 0606vsd Andywilson

Full exploitation of machine-vision products is stymied by human nature and a reluctance to share experience.

In every issue of Vision Systems Design, we try to bring you the latest and greatest about the technologies, products, and system developments in the machine-vision industry. However, as many of our veteran readers realize, unlike the consumer or semiconductor industry where change seems to occur almost daily, the pace of change in the machine-vision industry is somewhat slower.

While this is partially due to a lack of standards and large system integrators and trade shows that focus more on OEM products than system-solution providers, some of the blame must lie with the nature of mankind itself. Prudence may often be the right virtue in social interaction and finance, but it does not necessarily apply when developing a new machine-vision or image-processing system. And, skeptical of anything other than word-processing packages, spreadsheets, and badly bundled Web browsers, many people are reluctant to try a new software package-especially if the ones they have worked with for a number of years seem to accomplish their goals. Here I must admit that I am also a culprit.

More than a year ago, a colleague of mine touted the benefits of Skype as a means to talk over the Internet for free. Last month, I did load Version onto my machine, and it worked well, especially when placing US-based calls. But then I tried to convince others of the benefits of using the package. Much to my disgust, no one believed me! Even after a lot of pestering, it took my own brother (another high-tech hack) two months before he loaded the software.

Such novel applications not only apply to digital telephony. Just last week, I was shown a demonstration of Microsoft’s Streets and Trips, a handy $100 program and transponder that turns your laptop into a GPS navigation system. But I have yet to convince anyone at work that using it might save them a few hours, hassle, and gasoline bills on their next business trip.

With the latest hardware and software, your own laptop can be transformed into a word processor, Web site, server, telephone, GPS system, and television. However, even with the introduction of novel software application packages, very few have embraced these technologies.

A similar situation exists in the machine-vision market. Although numerous companies and organizations offer graphical user interfaces, C-callable development libraries, and even free C++ software routines, system integrators are reluctant to change because they may have many years of development work already invested in a particular software package. Indeed, many developers tout this as the primary reason for not considering different software/hardware combinations to solve their machine-vision tasks.

To entice them to try their products, software vendors must do more than offer more standard functions than their competitors. They must understand that the tools must be made simpler and more understandable. Unfortunately, development of on-line manuals is often left to Ph.D.s, who meticulously document each function without realizing that the developer may wish to understand the use of a particular function before knowing how to control its parameters!

Here, of course, the differentiating factor remains how the functions can be used together to accomplish a particular task. To date, however, very few software vendors provide “software case histories” on how their product has been used to tackle broad-ranging tasks.

One of the main reasons behind this is the reluctance of customers to show exactly what “added value” has been provided in developing a particular system. But only by providing these can companies ever expect to convince potential customers that their software/hardware combination will prove faster, simpler, and more cost-effective to integrate than their competitors’ products. Until then, developers will remain skeptical of the extra benefits of even loading a new image-processing package onto their machines, let alone trying to develop a particular application using the software.

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Andy Wilson

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