In the novelServants of the Map, author Andrea Barrett tells the story of a cartographer on an expedition to map the Himalayan Mountains in the 1860s. The man tracks his progress through long letters to his wife, at home in England. The letters he sends may have taken six to nine months to reach her or may never have found their way at all-especially if there was a breakdown in the erratic system of forwarding letters among travelers until they were finally delivered to packet ships bound for home. Contrast this realistic account of mid-19th century communications with the fact that a century and a half later climbers on Mt. Everest can reach their loved ones anywhere in the world by satellite phone.
Technology has brought many such changes to our sense of time and space. What was once a forbidding distance to travel is now a seven-hour flight, or, in the case of the Indian subcontinent, a 16-hour flight from the United States. In seven hours, travelers can reach Stuttgart, Germany, from the east coast of the USA. In November, this is where more than 200 exhibitors and 5000 attendees from around the world will gather for VISION 2005. Telecommunications, high-speed transportation, and a network of distributors and suppliers have not rendered trade shows obsolete. No matter the distance, there is nothing more effective than personal contact in business relations, and VISION 2005 personifies that principle.
A 16-hour flight from the USA is all it takes to reach Bangalore, India’s fast-growing IT center, where Apna Technologies & Solutions has built a station to test one of the products most responsible for the changing sense of distance-the cell phone. As described in this issue, Apna designed and installed its system-which includes visual inspection of the display-so that a cell-phone manufacturer could automate what was once a labor-intensive task. This trend of using vision to automate manufacturing in Asia is no surprise, according to an article by IMS Research, which pegs market growth for machine-vision hardware in the Asia-Pacific region at more than 8% in 2005.
As our interview with Naoyuki Kani from Japan F. A. Systems makes clear, the Asian market is becoming increasingly sophisticated, especially in a country as technologically advanced as Japan, where machine-vision technologies must be deployed in applications ranging from electronics to food-and-beverage production. In many countries, the electronics industry remains the largest user of machine-vision equipment, and our article on a new vision-based tool to inspect and repair PCBs illustrates this point. However, you will find many articles in this issue that address the applications that Kani describes, from inspecting automotive parts to ensuring the safety of poultry before sale to guiding the packaging of nuclear waste.
It’s a shrinking world in many senses, except in the number and variety of applications for machine vision. Tomorrow’s servants of the machine-vision map will be those that address other global issues facing the industry. Luckily, the shrinking world has allowed vendors to discuss and develop these standards-based solutions in a matter of days, a fact that will propel vision-systems solutions faster and further into the future.