Business Vision

Returning to the Chicago area for the first time in 15 years, the 2001 International Robots & Vision Show and Conference was held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center (Rosemont, IL) last June. The atmosphere of the show, which is presented once every two years, was surprisingly optimistic, especially in the separate Vision Exhibit area.

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George Kotelly,Editor in Chief
georgek@pennwell.com

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Robots & Vision Show upbeat
Returning to the Chicago area for the first time in 15 years, the 2001 International Robots & Vision Show and Conference was held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center (Rosemont, IL) last June. The atmosphere of the show, which is presented once every two years, was surprisingly optimistic, especially in the separate Vision Exhibit area. Most exhibitors admitted that business was down for the first half of this year, reflecting the national economic slowdown. However, they offered many more new products than usual and felt that sales would improve dramatically in the second half of this year.

Sponsored by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA; www.roboticsonline.com) and the Automated Imaging Association (AIA; www.machinevisiononline.com), both in Ann Arbor, MI, the show attracted the highest preregistrations of exhibitors and attendees in more than a decade. Nearly 200 companies exhibited the latest robots, machine-vision systems, and related factory-automated products for evaluation by more than 4500 professionals.

Donald A. Vincent, RIA executive vice president, said, "It's clear that despite the slowdown in capital-equipment buying that's taking place right now, companies are interested in robotics and machine vision and will likely resume major purchases of these technologies once the economy strengthens."

Reflecting the business downturn, the RIA reports that new orders for North American robotics companies dropped 36% in the first quarter of 2001 compared to the same period in 2000. Comments RIA's Vincent, "Based on feedback from RIA member companies, we expect to see strengthening orders in the second half of 2001." The RIA has more than 260 member companies, and it estimates that some 112,000 robots are now operating in US factories.

According to this year's AIA Machine Vision Market report, the North American machine-vision market increased 26% in 2000; the total units sold worldwide is estimated at 145,821; and worldwide sales reached $6.18 billion. Representing more than 225 member companies, AIA's executive director Jeffrey A. Burnstein said, "Machine-vision hardware and software costs are declining as performance is improving. This creates many new market opportunities for machine-vision technology in a wider range of industries than ever before." He attributes the vision industry's slow start in 2001 to slowdowns in capital-equipment expenditures, not a decline in demand for machine vision. He added, "We fully expect leading manufacturers to increase their purchases of machine vision once the global economy turns positive again. Machine vision is an essential technology for many companies and is high on the list of desired technologies for a growing number of manufacturers."

Pepperidge Farm Inc. (Norwalk, CT) received the 2001 Robots & Vision Recognition Award for its innovative use of both technologies in cookie packaging. The company has automated highly repetitive tasks by using an inspection system comprising 14 vision-guided robots. This system has boosted production capacity, improved quality, and lowered scrap losses.

In the Vision Exhibit area, exhibitors were mostly pleased with the quality and numbers of attendees, even though floor traffic varied continually from high to low levels during the three exhibit days. Not surprisingly, IEEE-1394 (FireWire) and Camera Link cameras dominated the list of new products introduced at the show, followed by various boards, software packages, and lighting devices. Another observed trend was that some companies are forming alliances to jointly share their technologies to solve user problems.

Technology Trends
Silicon Video Inc. (San Jose, CA; www.silicon-video.com) has demonstrated its svW1 image-warping processor chip that enables manufacturers of high-end image-acquisition and display systems to warp images dynamically in real time. The chip also can produce dynamic video effects, zoom and pan in software, and digitally correct projection on curved surfaces.

Amicas Inc. (Newton, MA; www.amicas.com) has introduced an imaging system that the company claims makes the common Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS) obsolete and provides an improved method for the diagnostic imaging industry. The system comprises a personal viewer, a diagnostic workstation, a service monitor, and integration with voice recognition and electronic medical records and reports. The workstation, developed collaboratively with eFilm, is web and DICOM compatible with a JPEG2000-compliant archive. It demonstrates one-click, instantaneous, and simultaneous access to prior patient images and reports; makes the "pre-fetching" PACS technique obsolete; and integrates voice recognition technology for transcribing and accessing radiologists reports.

GenRad Inc. (Westford, MA: www. genrad.com) has sold an automated GR-X Station 3-D x-ray inspection system to Excelsior Manufacturing (San Jose, CA) that is expected to cut printed-circuit-board inspection test time by 1500%. The patented 3-D x-ray inspection system combines the GenRad Transmission 2-D and Digital Tomosynthesis 3-D inspection techniques into a single chassis. It inspects boards up to 18 x 22 in., offers a test rate of up to 3.0 sq in./s, and comes with two sets of fields of views to meet inspection requirements.

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Three-dimensional inspection highlighted at show
Stereo-based three-dimensional (3-D) machine-vision systems were a highlight at the International Robots & Vision Show booth of ISRA Vision Systems (Lansing, MI). Developed for robot-guidance applications and systems capabilities for 3-D vision-guided robotic depalletizing of auto-panel body parts, the company's Location Measurement Sensor (3D- Locmes) 3-D-measurement system permits local measurement of position and objects in a 3-D space. Typical applications are tasks in automotive production such as the assembly of door panels.

In the simplest case, Locmes can be configured with one camera. With the camera mounted on the robot or movement unit, stereo systems can capture several images from different positions in the workspace.

In most cases, however, two cameras are mounted on the movement unit, so that no additional movements are necessary for measurement. Using two cameras, a measurement space of 500 x 500 x 400 mm can be evaluated with an accuracy of better than ±0.7 mm using the 3D Locmes menu-controlled software running on an industrial PC under Windows NT. This provides spatial information for the parts and objects to be handled to many currently available robot interfaces.

REPRESENTATIVE EXHIBITORS
For example, in addition to introducing its Camera Link-based, 1004 x 1004-pixel, 48-frame/s A202k progressive area-scan camera, Basler Vision Technologies (Exton, PA; www.baslerweb. com) disclosed partnerships with National Instruments (NI; Austin, TX; www.ni.com) and Matrox Imaging (Dorval, Quebec, Canada; www.matrox.com/imaging) to bundle and sell IEEE 1394 starter kits. Sold in the North American market, the kit includes a Basler A101f (1300 x 1300-pixel, 12 frame/s, 8-bit) or A302f (780 x 580-pixel, 30-frame/s, 8-bit) camera; optional color or monochrome capability; a 1394 PCI board; NI IMAQ for IEEE 1394 driver software or Matrox Imaging's MIL Lite version 1.6A image-processing software; a C-mount lens; and associated cabling.

JAI America Inc. (Laguna Hills, CA; www.jai.com) unveiled four cameras. The CV-A11 progressive-scan, 1/3-in., monochrome CCD camera offers "switchless" setup via RS-232 and software-configurable partial scanning of 58 to 124 frames/s. The CV-A50 1/2-in. and CV-A60 1/3-in. monochrome, interlaced CCD cameras provide setups via an RS-232C interface, needing no rear-panel DIP switches or internal camera access to configure the camera. The CV-M7 2/3-in. color CCD camera delivers 1300 x 1030-pixel resolution and uses proprietary sample/hold and correlated double sampling techniques to achieve double-speed readouts without degrading the dynamic range or image fidelity. The CV-M4 1300 x 1300-pixel camera features 24 progressive-scan frames/s, LVDS EIA-644 outputs, RS-232C controls, and optional Camera Link interfacing.

Cognex Corp. (Natick, MA; www. cognex.com) offered its In-Sight 1000C self-contained machine-vision sensor for verifying and sorting parts based on color. The sensor unit combines all image-processing hardware, software, and communications in a rugged, self-contained housing. It can also be integrated with PC-based factory-automation devices via an Ethernet network and with PLCs on the factory floor via DeviceNet, ModBus, and ProfiBus communications.

DVT Corp. (Norcross, GA; www.dvtsensors.com) launched the Legend 530 SmartImage sensor. Offered with FrameWork 2.3 software, this sensor is claimed to be the smallest, Ethernet-ready vision sensor available. It reads most 1- and 2-D barcodes as well as printed characters using a trainable OCR tool. Features include 75 full frames/s, separate control of as many as four strobes, and communications with robot controllers, PC-based control systems, and other automation devices.

Dalsa (Waterloo, Ont., Canada; www.dalsa.com) announced the branding of its Dalstar area-scan camera family. These cameras feature 1k x 1k to 3k x 2k resolutions, 100% fill factor, 12-bit dynamic range, and 25 to 30 frames/s.

Sony Electronics Inc. (Park Ridge, NJ; www.sony.com/professional) exhibited its progressive-scan. 1/2-in. CCD IEEE 1394 cameras, such as the 1280 x 960-pixel, 7.5-frame/s DFW-SX900 model and the 1024 x 768-pixel, 15-frame/s DFW-X700 model. The company also introduced its DFWS-77 digital imaging station. Measuring 8.7 x 8.5 x 3.2 in. and weighing 3.1 lb, this station controls multiple IEEE 1394-compliant and compatible images on PC or video monitors, stores images on local media or a network, shares images via e-mail, print images to a local printer, and allows remote access to images via the internet. It features an LCD touchscreen control panel, two PCMCIA-type II slots, S-video and RGB monitor outputs, three IEEE 1394 camera connectors, an Ethernet 10Base-T interface, and Windows CE software support.

Point Grey Research (Vancouver, BC, Canada; www.ptgrey.com) showed its board-level color or monochrome Dragonfly progressive-scan digital video camera that conforms to DCAM 1.30 and IEEE 1394 standards. It uses a 1/3-in. CCD to stream 640 x 480 or 1024 x 768 images at 30 frames/s without compression. Network capable, the camera comes with an IEEE 1394 interface card, cable, and image-acquisition software.

Cohu Electronics Division (San Diego, CA; www.cohu. com/cctv) presented three new cameras. The Cohu 7500 series of progressive-scan, 1300 x 1030-pixel, monochrome, 2/3-in. CCD cameras provide full-frame images at 12 frames/s or half-line resolution at 24 frames/s via a Camera Link or a LVDS 10-bit digital output. The Cohu DCR 1/2-in. monochrome camera features a 768 x 494-pixel resolution, an integrated lens, RS-170 video output, and 30 frames/s. The Cohu alignment image/reader camera provides a 1/2- or 1/3-in. monochrome RS-170 or CCIR imager format, 768 x 494-pixel resolution, and fixed shuttering at up to eight levels.

In the Sensor Expo area, National Instruments showed its NI-IMAQ for IEEE 1394 camera software for color-image acquisition at 30 frames/s and up to a 640 x 480-pixel resolution. This software contains a set of Virtual Instruments and C functions with which professionals can create LabVIEW and Measurement Studio programs. It enables the connection of an IEEE 1394 camera to a laptop computer for image acquisition. Then, using IMAQ Vision image-processing software permits the processing and analyzing of the acquired images.

Data Translation (Marlboro, MA; www.datatranslation.com) released DT Vision Foundry 3.0 with enhanced Windows-based machine-vision software tools. Included as new tools are Enhanced Picture, New Export, New Prompt, Enhanced Color Plane, Enhanced Threshold, Enhanced Image Classifier, Enhanced Search, and New Information Pane.

Leutrek Vision Inc. (Burlington, MA; www.leutrek.com) announced the availability of MVTec's ActivVisionTools Revision 1.3. The updates include an ActivAlignment Tool and an object control tool, among others.

Matrox Imaging (Dorval, Quebec, Canada; www.matrox.com) showed its Matrox Imaging Library (MIL) 7.0 and a 3U CompactPCI version of the Meteor-II/Multi-Channel frame grabber. The MIL 7.0 library includes a Geometric Model Finder tool for geometric pattern recognition; support for the new JPEG2000 image compression/decompression standard; ActiveMil 7.0, a collection of ActiveX controls; and a common API that supports the entire line of company imaging hardware. The PCI-based frame grabber captures images from analog interlaced or progressive frame-scan component RGB, two-channel analog progressive frame-scan monochrome cameras, or multiple RS-170/CCIR monochrome cameras.

Euresys Inc. (Dallas, TX; www.euresys.com) heralded its Camera Link-based GrabLink Value frame grabber at a price of $799, claimed by a company representative to be $200 cheaper than any other Camera Link board on the show floor. The PCI frame grabber acquires images from one line- or area-scan camera while supporting various camera configurations such as single tap (8-16 bits), dual tap (8-12 bits), and RGB (3 x 8 bits). It comes with a 16-Mbyte frame buffer and can acquire up to 24 bits at a 66-MHz maximum clock speed.

Cyberoptics (Portland, OR; www.cyberoptics.com) released the Imagenation PXR800 single-channel, monochrome, PCI-format frame grabber. It works with as many as four cameras and supports RS-170 or CCIR, progressive-scan, and resettable cameras at up to 14.75 MHz. It combines FIFO dual-mode direct memory access with 8 Mbytes of on-board memory. Precise imaging results from low pixel jitter (±2.6 ns) and low noise (less than 0.5 of LSB of digitizing inaccuracy).

DataCell (North Billerica, MA; www.datacel.com) demonstrated its Phoenix and Snapper frame grabbers. The PCI-based Phoenix supports 64-bit/66-MHz and 32-bit/33-MHz buses and transfer rates to 528 Mbits/s. The Snapper board comes in three versions: DIG-16 that supports digital cameras via one 16-channel or 2 x 8-bit inputs; Model 24 that supports a 24-bit RGB analog camera; and Model 8 that supports an 8-bit monochrome camera.

StockerYale Inc. (Salem, NH; www.stockeryale.com) displayed several products such as the Lasiris Mini laser line generator that uses a 10-mm diameter diode laser; the Lasiris MFL Series Micro-focus laser that projects a 5.5-µm line; a line of white LED ring and line-lighting devices; and fluorescent fixtures that come in twin 4-, 6-, 8-, and 16-W sealed NEMA enclosures.

Optem (Fairport, NY; www.optemintl.com) introduced the Telecentric Zoom Optical System, which offers >0.1% manageable distortion resulting from varying perspective within the field of view.

Management moves
Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. (Irvine, CA; www.toshiba.com), a global supplier of electronic, information, and communication products, has appointed Hisatsugu Nonaka as president. He was recently vice president and general manager of Toshiba's personal-computer division, international operations, Digital Media Network Co.

Visionics Corp. (Minnetonka, MN; www.visionics.com) has promoted chief executive officer Joseph Atick to president and chief executive officer.

Eastman Kodak Co. (Rochester, NY; www.kodak.com), a worldwide supplier of photographic and imaging products and service, has appointed Patricia F. Russo as president and chief executive officer. She previously headed the Service Provider Networks Group.

The PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG; Wakefield, MA; www.picmg.org) has released Revision 2.0 of the CompactPCI Hot Swap Specification, PICMG 2.1 R2.0. Hot-swapping of components in CompactPCI systems is the capability of removing and replacing components without turning off the system. CompactPCI is an industrial computer platform based on the PCI electrical specification in rugged Eurocard packaging with a 2-mm metric pin and socket connector.

Toshiba America Medical Systems (Tustin, CA; www.tams. com) has named Dennis Constantinou senior director, product marketing. He previously served as vice president, marketing, at Imagyn Medical Technologies.

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