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Vlad Tucakov, Point Grey Research

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How did you come to be part of the imaging/machine vision industry?

In 1997, I was working on my masters in the Computational Intelligence Lab at the University of British Columbia. I was working on stereo vision research and with a group of students and staff we decided to start a company selling stereo vision cameras. The stereo vision solution was received very well but we found that the available cameras were too expensive – or didn’t offer the performance we needed. This is when we decided to build the cameras ourselves. The interface of choice was FireWire, which generated significant interest from the machine vision community. Since we provided the camera, the drivers and the software, we were able to support customers in a unique way. Since then we have been expanding our line of FireWire and stereo cameras and have branched out into more exotic imaging solutions, such as spherical vision systems.

How do you convince customers that they need machine vision?

Our customers are a very sophisticated bunch –mostly engineers, researchers and industrial systems designers who already understand the value that vision can add to their machines. Our task is to make their vision systems work as well as possible. Typically customers have very specific requirements, and we try to design and manufacture off-the-shelf products that have many custom features. We also pay a lot of attention to details that are often neglected, such as the size of the cameras, power consumption, locking connectors, high flex cables etc. We feel that components that connect the camera to the PC are just as important as the camera itself. This is why we have recently launched the FirePro line of accessories, which includes cables, hubs, and interface cards, which are tested and supported by us.

What role does Europe have in the development of machine vision?

Europe is home to many of the world’s largest automotive and semiconductor companies and leading educational and research institutes. As such, it plays a significant role in the imaging and machine vision industry. Europe’s rich tradition in optics and automation sets a world standard for quality and sophistication required in vision solutions. Point Grey pays close attention to these requirements in order to learn and improve our product offering. As a Canadian company, we try to provide balance between the conservative approach to the market and the fast pace and innovation required in this competitive environment.

What do you see as the major growth sectors?

Most industrial production processes are now dependent on machine vision technology, yet despite the phenomenal growth in this sector in recent years, it is estimated that fewer than 20 per cent of potential applications for vision systems have been addressed. We expect to see continued strong growth in the industrial sector, particularly as vision systems architectures enable faster, more compact systems. On the other hand, Point Grey has been a long-standing supplier of camera systems for non-industrial applications, such as scientific and biomedical imaging. Researchers rely heavily on the ability to apply computer vision to real-world problems, so we expect to see strong demand from the academic and research communities. We also expect to see continued growth in analogue to digital conversion over the next couple of years, as more and more companies benefit from increased functionality and the better prices offered by digital solutions.

What do you see as the most important technological challenges facing the industry?

As a camera manufacturer, we view the reliability and bandwidth of data communication as the key challenge in the coming years. Customers today demand higher resolution, higher frame rate and more cameras. Point Grey firmly believes that IEEE-1394b addresses most of these requirements. Looking forward, however, we see PCIe interface as an obvious choice for a camera interface. PCIe is widely available, fast and reliable, and actually removes a requirement for an additional interface between the camera and the PC.

What do you see as being the most significant commercial change in the industry during the years ahead?

The world is becoming a flatter, more global marketplace. Customers expect to be able to easily and quickly source almost any product from anywhere in the world. This means that winning companies must not only have a competitive technological advantage, they must also meet worldwide cost targets. This applies to machine vision suppliers, but also our customers who sell their equipment worldwide.

Customers are also leading the way in specifying what they want – so vision system vendors who are able to stay close to the customer, regardless of whether they sell directly or through channel partners, will be ones that survive and thrive.