One of the trends that emerged at this year's Vision Show East (May 2004; Boston, MA, USA) was the endorsement of Gigabit Ethernet by camera, peripheral, and software vendors. While the Gigabit Ethernet protocol has existed for a number of years, it has only recently has been endorsed by suppliers of OEM components as a way to reduce the cost of integrated machine vision systems.
Leading this effort, Pleora Technologies (Kanata, ON, Canada; www.pleora.com) introduced a number of products dubbed iPORT IP engines that allow analog, digital, LVDS, and Camera Link-based cameras to interface to GigE networks. As part of its product line, the company offers device drivers and an SDK running under Linux or Windows that transfers data from camera to host memory using little CPU overhead.
At the show, the company announced a beta version of this communications software that allows imaging data to be streamed between PCs connected by standard GigE network interface cards (NICs). According to Alain Rivard, the company's vice president of engineering, the software runs on an Intel NIC and typically uses less than 1% of the processing power of a P4 computer.
To standardize the software, the Automated Imaging Association (AIA; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; www.machinevisiononline.org) has already formed a committee to develop a publicly available GigE standard specifically tailored for machine vision. According to George Chamberlain, president of Pleora, this standard should be available by the end of this year. Rather than wait, a number of camera vendors have already endorsed Pleora's products by rebranding iPORT TCP/IP off-load engines or embedding versions of the hardware into their products.
Dalsa (Waterloo, ON, Canada; www. dalsa.com) already offers a version of the iPORT for use with its Base configuration linescan and area-array cameras.
Rather than offer the interface as a peripheral, JAI Pulnix (Sunnyvale, CA, USA; www.jaipulnix.com) worked with Pleora to embed the interface into a series of cameras targeted at machine-vision applications. According to Toshi Hori, president of JAI Pulnix America and chairman of the AIA's GigE committee, these include the TM-6740GE, a 640 × 480-pixel, 60-frames/s camera; the TM-4000GE, a 2k × 2k, 15-frames/s unit; the TM-2040GE, a 1.6k × 1.2k camera; and the TM-2030GE, which features a 2k × 1k image sensor (see photo above).
Other camera and peripheral vendors are also pursuing Gigabit Ethernet products. At the show, the newly formed US subsidiary of Tattile (Bedford, NH, USA; www.tattileusa.com) showed two versions of a GigE-compatible camera that it will introduce over the next few months. John Merva, newly appointed company president, explained that two versions of the camera will be available: a 15-frames/s camera with a 1400 × 1000-pixel sensor and a lower-resolution 640 × 480-pixel, 30-frame/s unit.
GigaLinx (Herzella, Israel; www.gigalinx.net) CEO Yoav Nueman showed his company's Camera Link-to-Gigabit Ethernet converter modules and DSP boards. In addition to offering board-level products, the company showed single enclosed modules capable of networking two Base or one Medium configuration cameras over Gigabit Ethernet. Nueman announced that his company will offer a single Base Camera Link-to-Gigabit Ethernet converter within the next few months.
While the interest in Gigabit Ethernet was apparent, the lack of a public-domain, machine-vision-specific software standard left many taking a wait-and-see attitude. The AIA's efforts to offer a public-domain version will be vital to its acceptance.