Maintaining standards

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Ahead of speaking at the AIA business conference, Bob McCurrach, AIA director of standards development, considers the machine vision standards landscape and asks whether the industry will one day develop its own dedicated interface

In my view, the vision and imaging market is really in its early stages. It is tempting to look at the history of the original machine vision standard, Camera Link, and the standards that have emerged in the intervening 12 years, and view the landscape as pretty well developed and mature. However, stepping back and looking at the advent of PCs only 30 years ago and the quantum leap in storage and processing power, it is clear that the pace of change dictates the opportunity for new and potentially disruptive technological advances that can change the landscape overnight.

In this environment, it is imperative that norms or standards are developed to create some order out of the chaos so that patterns become recognisable and people know how to act to achieve an efficient system. That is what Camera Link and the successive standards have done for the vision and imaging industry, to the full benefit of not only the technology users, but also the technology manufacturers. From a technology user standpoint, they may not fully understand the technology, but they recognise a standard’s brand or collection of similar products and recognise the benefit of plug and play interoperability. From a technology manufacturer standpoint, there is a clear benefit in having a larger and more informed pool of customers that recognise the standards by name and understand the role of standards in vision.

This was seen very clearly in AIA’s most recent standard development project, USB3 Vision. Because the manufacturers recognise that the ubiquitous and easy-to-use USB interface (with particular emphasis on the ‘U’ for Universal) will expand the ranks of the ‘vision enlightened’, the AIA had an overwhelming majority of manufacturers involved. This standard development project stands out because of the energy, talent and enthusiasm committed by the large group of highly motivated participants.

So where do we go from here? The industry has a handful of standards developed that take advantage of popular interfaces: Camera Link (MDR, HDR and SDR connectors), GigE Vision (RJ45 connectors, Cat5e/Cat 6 cables), Camera Link HS (CX4 cable, fibre optic cables, SFP and SFP+ connectors), CoaXPress (coaxial cable and BNC connectors), and USB3 Vision (USB cables and connectors). Each standard has its own characteristics that fit specific application needs, such as bandwidth, cable lengths, cost structure, etc. The existing standards are comprehensive enough to cover the needs of the industry for the foreseeable future. We should therefore maximise the use of these standards globally.

These standards are well known and used in the Americas, Europe and Asia, but there is a huge opportunity to increase global dissemination, understanding and usage of them. That is exactly what the AIA, European Machine Vision Association (EMVA) and Japan Industrial Imaging Association (JIIA) are doing through promotion of these standards in a variety of ways, including at international standards demonstration booths. The AIA has been involved in standards development and promotion since the late 1990s and our increased communication and cooperation with the EMVA and JIIA helps keep the industry from reverting back to slow and expensive proprietary interfaces. In addition, the upside potential in increasing the geographic representation via other regional vision associations is significant and is an important goal.

As vision and imaging technology becomes lower in cost, easier to use and more powerful, our user community will become broader, even more knowledgeable about the technology and more resourceful in seeking out creative new solutions. This will drive growth in the vision and imaging market.

While we currently utilise the interfaces that are available in the telecommunications and PC industry, one day the industry may have a large enough critical mass to develop its own dedicated interface, purpose-built to optimise vision and imaging technology. At the moment this may seem like a bridge too far, but if I am correct that we are in the early days of vision, we could see a dedicated development effort that really lets the industry achieve its maximum technological potential.