Business Vision

New imaging technology extends dynamic range; Alliances accelerate; Technology trends; Management moves; Contracts committed; Market vision ...

Nov 1st, 2000
Th 1100busvis

George Kotelly, Editor in Chief, georgek@pennwell.com

New imaging technology extends dynamic range
A new approach that improves the dynamic range of imaging systems has been discovered and developed by scientists at Columbia University (New York, NY) and Sony Corp. (Tokyo, Japan). Shree K. Nayer, Columbia University professor of computer science, and Tomoo Mitsunga, Sony media-processing researcher, have designed a method that permits cameras to acquire a broader range of light and color changes and produce highly detailed images. They have published their findings in a paper entitled "High Dynamic Range Imaging: Spatially Varying Pixel Exposures" (www.cs.columbia.edu/CAVE/).

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The camera system simultaneously samples the spatial and exposure dimensions of image irradiance. This is accomplished by placing an optical mask adjacent to a conventional image detector array. The mask provides a pattern of spatially varying transmittance, thereby giving adjacent pixels on the detector different exposures to the scene. The captured image is then mapped to a high-dynamic-range image using custom image-reconstruction algorithms. The end result is an imaging system that can measure a wide range of scene radiances and produce a large number of brightness levels. However, the process does slightly reduce the spatial resolution. The advantage of this approach is that it can extend the range of measurable brightness values of nearly all imaging systems.

In their approach, the scientists introduce the concept of spatially varying pixel sensitivities for high-dynamic-range imaging. In an array of pixels, the brightness level associated with each pixel represents sensitivity; that is, brighter pixels have greater exposure to image irradiance; darker pixels have lower exposures. The captured image is classified as a spatially varying exposure (SVE) image.

The key attribute is that the spatial dimensions and the exposure dimensions of image irradiance are being simultaneously sampled. In the SVE approach, a saturated pixel in the acquired image is likely to have an unsaturated neighboring pixel. Similarly, when a pixel produces zero brightness, the neighboring pixel might produce nonzero brightness.

This imaging pattern is done over the entire array of pixels. The process exploits this spatioexposure sampling to generate a high-dynamic-range image of a scene. For example, the total number of quantization levels produced at each pixel of a typical 8-bit detector is 256. The new SVE pattern technique with four exposures for the same detector generated 869 quantization levels.

Alliances accelerate
Cognex Corp. (Natick, MA; www. cognex.com), a supplier of machine-vision systems, has purchased the web-inspection technology of Honeywell Industrial Control (Phoenix, AZ), a diversified technology and manufacturing leader. As part of the agreement, Cognex will provide web-inspection systems to Honeywell's customers in the pulp and paper industries, and Honeywell will purchase and integrate Cognex vision systems into its factories.

In cooperation with Tower Semiconductor Ltd. (Migdal Haemek, Israel; www.towersemi.com), Dalsa Corp. (Waterloo, ON, Canada; wwwdalsa.com) has developed high-speed color and monochrome CMOS image sensors capable of capturing images at rates to 20,000 frames/s for use by Redlake Imaging Corp. (Morgan Hill, CA; www.redlake.com) to view moving objects in design, research test, and production troubleshooting applications. The 640 x 480-pixel array chip can deliver 1500 frames/s for full-frame readout when using all 16 outputs.

Research Systems Inc. (Boulder, CO; www.researchsystems.com), a developer of technical data-visualization and application-development software, has licensed its Interactive Data Language software to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for use at several of its research facilities.

Newport Corp. (Irvine, CA; www. newport.com), a supplier of assembly, test, and materials-handling systems, has acquired Unique Equipment Co. (Chandler, AZ; www. unique-equip. com), a systems integrator of robotic, laser, machine-vision, and material handling systems.

MGI Software Corp. (Campbell, CA; www. mgisoft.com), a provider of visual media software, has agreed to collaborate with Lura Tech GmbH (Menlo Park, CA; www.luratech.com), a supplier of wavelet-based image-compression software, to develop and market tools and applications using the JPEG2000 standard for still image coding.

Eastman Kodak Co. (Rochester, NY; www.kodak.com), a manufacturer of imaging products, has acquired Computer Knowledge Inc. (CKI) of Iceland, a provider of radiology information systems. Additionally, Kodak's Health Imaging (HI) division has formed a new medical-imaging-information business segment called PARIS that combines CKI with HI's Picture Archiving and Communications System. Kodak has also purchased Research Systems Inc. (Boulder, CO).

Photon Dynamics Inc. (San Jose, CA; www.photondynamics.com), a provider of flat-panel-display test-and-inspection technologies, has agreed to acquire Image Processing Systems Inc. (Markham, ON, Canada; www.ipsautomation.com), a developer of electronic vision technology, in a transaction worth approximately $49 million.

The MathWorks Inc. (Natick, MA; www. mathworks.com) and Texas Instruments (Dallas, TX; www.ti.com) are integrating their digital signal-processing software technologies to improve and speed the design process from algorithm development to implementation.

Technology trends
Analog Devices Inc. (Norwood, MA; www.analog.com) has introduced the ADSP-21161 32-bit, 1200-MFLOPS digital-signal processor based on its SIMD SHARC core. It comes in a 0.18-µm CMOS process with a dual-ported, 1-Mbit SRAM; 14 DMA channels; and one 32-bit parallel, two 128-channel synchronous TDM, and four I2S serial ports.

EyeTicket Corp. (McLean, VA; www.eyeticket.com) has been awarded a US patent for a system and method for aircraft passenger check-in and boarding using iris-recognition imaging technology.

Physicists at the Universities of Aberdeen and Brunel (England) have developed a Holocam, a camera that can take three-dimensional pictures in the form of holograms for marine biology and undersea pipeline and structure-inspection applications. The camera operates to depths of 100 m and produces 45 holograms for each underwater session. After photographic plates are processed, the resulting holograms can be displayed in a laboratory.

Philips Flat Panel Display Systems (Sunnyvale, CA; www.flatdisplaysystems.philips.com) and Rainbow Displays Inc. (Endicott, NY; www.rainbowdisplays.com) claim to have jointly produced the industry's first 37.5-in. tiled flat-panel display. This display combines several small active-matrix liquid-crystal displays into a single flat LCD without visible seams.

National Semiconductor Corp. (Santa Clara, CA; www.national.com) has unveiled the LM9627 (color) and LM9617 (monochrome) CMOS imaging sensors with 12-bit ADCs and a 60-dB linear dynamic range for capturing still and full-motion video images at rates to 30 frames/s.

DRS Technologies Inc. (Parsippany, NJ; www.drs.com) has delivered the first advanced retinal imaging system—Panoramic200 Non-Mydriatic Scanning Laser Ophthalmoscope—in North America to The New England Eye Center (Boston, MA).

Management moves
IBM Microelectronics (East Fishkill, NY; www.ibm.com) is investing $5 billion in capital facilities to support its worldwide semiconductor businesses. An advanced $2.5 billion chip-making plant will be built in East Fishkill, NY, which is going to combine such company technologies as copper interconnect, silicon on insulator, low-k dielectric insulation on 300-mm wafers, and 0.10-µm-linewidth semiconductor production. Facility operation is slated to begin in the second half of 2002. The company is also expanding chip-making plant capacity in Burlington, VT; Yasu, Japan; and Corbeil-Essonnes, France.

Adept Technology Inc. (San Jose, CA; www. adept.com), a manufacturer of industrial robots and factory automation products, has named Mike Rountree as director of operations at its new Santa Barbara, CA, facility. He recently served as vice president of the automation group at Working Machines Inc.

Philips Components (Eindhoven, The Netherlands; www.Philips.com), a supplier of display, storage, and power products, has relocated its North American headquarters, business groups, and sales, service, and support activities from San Jose, CA, to the Philips Silicon Valley Center in Sunnyvale, CA.

Cambridge Research & Instrumentation Inc. (Boston, MA; www.CRI-inc.com), a provider of LCD-based electro-optic components, devices, and image-capture and processing systems, has appointed Anthony Macadino director of development engineering. He previously was manager of custom services at Oak Technology.

Identix Image Inc. (Sunnyvale, CA; www.identix.com), a provider of authentication, security, and identification platforms, has promoted Grant Evans to executive vice president and head of the company's security and trust divisions.

Ixthos Inc. (Leesburg, VA; www.ixthos.com), a manufacturer of digital-signal-processing (DSP) boards, has appointed Lynn Patterson to vice president of operations and Daniel Schwed to director of product development. Patterson has worked with the company for eight years in DSP engineering and product development. Schwed previously worked as engineering manager of DSP development for Raytheon Inc.

Barco Inc., Display Systems (Duluth, GA), has changed its name to BarcoView Inc. and reorganized its six product groups into three business groups: avionics, medical, and command & control systems.

StockerYale Inc. (Salem, NH; www.stockeryale.com), a provider of special illumination products, has named Paul Jortberg senior vice president of sales and marketing of the Optical Components Group. He previously worked as vice president of sales and marketing for Lucent Technologies.

CR Technology (Aliso Viejo, CA; www. crtechnology.com), a manufacturer of process-control vision and x-ray inspection systems, has named Claude W. LeBlond vice president of engineering. He last served as vice president of engineering at Tamarack Scientific Inc.

Eastman Kodak Co. (Rochester, NY; www.kodak.com, a manufacturer of imaging products, has appointed Ted G. Lewis senior vice president, digital business development. He previously served as president of DaimlerChrysler Research & Technology NA.

Contracts committed
Pixel Physics Inc. (Rochester, NY; www.pixelphysics.com) has been awarded a contract from Corning Inc. (Corning, NY; www.corning.com) to design and develop a photonic-based optical-fiber measurement system.

Scan-Optics Inc. (Manchester, CT; www.scanoptics.com) has received a $1 million order from Howtek Inc. (Hudson, NH) to manufacture 114 desktop drum scanners.

DRS Technologies Inc. (Parsippany, NJ; www.drs.com) has received a $1.3 million contract from the US Air Force Research Laboratory (Albuquerque, NM) to develop new infrared focal-plane arrays for the High Operating Temperature Staring Arrays Program for space surveillance applications.

Market vision
According to Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI; Mountain View, CA; www.semi.org), the North American-based manufacturers of semiconductor equipment maintained record shipments in August 2000 with a book-to-bill ratio of 1.24; that is, $124 in orders were received for every $100 worth of products shipped. The three-month average of worldwide shipments in August 2000 was $2.44 billion, which was 69% greater than the August 1999 shipments level of $1.44 billion.

Gartner Dataquest Inc. (San Jose, CA; www.dataquest.com) estimates that worldwide semiconductor-industry sales will total $231.6 billion in 2000, an increase of 37% over 1999 revenues, and soar to $339.6 billion in 2004.

Market researcher DisplaySearch (Austin, TX; www.displaysearch.com) has released an annual report on thin-film transistor liquid-crystal display equipment and materials markets. It projects that the total TFT LCD market will rise at a 23% average annual rate from a record high of $13.7 billion in 1999 to $47.6 billion in 2005.

According to market-research firm Cahners In-Stat Group (Scottsdale, AZ; www.instat.com), the market for image sensors exceeded $1 billion for the first time in 1999. This market is expected to undergo tremendous upheaval during the next few years as CMOS image sensor sales grow rapidly at the expense of CCD sensors. In 1999, CMOS image sensors accounted for 7.2% of all sensors shipped and 6.2% of revenues. An explosive demand for low-cost portable cameras over the next five years is projected to drive the market share of CMOS sensors to 50.8% and total 35.5% of sensor revenues by 2004. This increased demand is based on lower cost, less power consumption, and higher on-chip integration in comparison to CCD sensors. However, CCDs still provide higher-quality images and should continue to dominate in several high-end applications. Newer products and improved price/performance are foreseen as helping CCD sensors to maintain significant market share for several more years.

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