Consumer imaging technology merits industrial support

Adoption of Kodak's extended range imaging technology will depend on affordability, availability, and support.

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Adoption of Kodak's extended range imaging technology will depend on affordability, availability, and support.

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Andrew Wilson, Editor, andyw@pennwell.com

Whereas worldwide machine-vision- and image-processing-industry sales approached $6 billion for 2001, that figure pales in comparison to the consumer-electronics market. Comprising digital cameras, camcorders, digital television sets, personal computers, and numerous hand-held devices, among others, the consumer-electronics market has been a driving force for many of the new technologies now used in machine-vision and image-processing systems. Such technologies include digital FireWire and USB cameras, ultrasync high-resolution monitors, low-cost broadcast-format converters and digitizers, and high-speed Pentium-based PCs.

In developing the next generation of smart-camera, embedded machine-vision system, and intelligent-lighting-system technologies, designers of future imaging systems should keep close watch on digital electronic developments in the consumer field. In digital-camera systems, for example, one way to save the extended-dynamic-range information, range of brightness and color gamut, or range of color values has been to archive an original raw image file and store the associated image data. But since raw images are not ready for display on a monitor without additional image processing, they are not useful for consumer products that demand instant viewing and use images stored in standard RGB formats and compressed using the JPEG standard.

As a result, Eastman Kodak Company (Rochester, NY) has developed a technique called extended range imaging (ERI). This image-processing advancement allows digital cameras to capture raw images with a large color gamut and dynamic range that can be retained when the image is rendered in a JPEG image file. In an ERI file, image information is compressed and stored as metadata in the JPEG file header. The ERI metadata can then be recombined with the standard RGB image data at a later time to form a reconstructed image with the full color gamut and dynamic range of the original raw image.

While the Photoshop File Format Module is currently the only means available to access/edit the ERI data, other tools/applications for doing so may be available in the future, according to Kodak. This technology is expected to provide major benefits to developers of consumer-electronics equipment. More important, it can be applied to other areas of image processing.

In biomedical cell analysis, for example, the current dynamic range and color gamut of high-end cameras are currently much greater than can be displayed on a high-resolution monitor. By using metadata in Kodak's method, developers could store images in a standard file format without worrying about color-image-conversion software that might not be compatible.

Accepting the technology
However, affordability and widespread availability of the Kodak technology will govern acceptance by industrial product manufacturers. Just as the RS-170, NTSC, PAL, and SECAM broadcast standards have been adopted in nearly every analog system for machine vision, the adoption of the Kodak technology will depend on the demand and falling cost of the technology in the consumer electronics marketplace.

The best way to make consumer imaging technology useful in scientific, medical, machine-vision, and industrial applications is for industry associations such as the International Imaging Industry Association (Harrison, NY) and the Automated Imaging Association (Ann Arbor, MI) to actively promote them to their members.Vision Systems Design supports the adoption of commendable consumer imaging technologies into industrial applications because, as demonstrated in other high-technology industries, they are the impetus to expanded growth.

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