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ASICs on show at Stemmer Imaging's technology forum

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Two instances of ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) technology were presented at Stemmer Imaging’s UK technology forum on 16 November at Silverstone.

Allied Vision was showing its Alvium ASIC built into its new 1 product line, and which according to Jochen Braun, director of sales, EMEA at Allied Vision, will be available next year, while Intel was displaying its RealSense depth camera with onboard ASIC.

The RealSense camera, of which both Stemmer Imaging and Framos have distribution rights, is a stereovision camera designed for applications such as robotics, drones, autonomous driving and virtual reality. It gives 1mm depth accuracy, and operates over distances from 15cm to more than 10 metres. Resolution is 1,280 x 720 pixels and frame rate can reach up to 90fps.

The camera itself is not suitable for classic machine vision, as it can’t be used to make measurements, especially over longer distances. But Intel is offering varying levels of integration, and users are able to purchase just the ASIC module and develop their own applications.

Pilot versions of Allied Vision’s ASIC will be released next year Braun said during the event. ASICs are new to the machine vision market, because they are only affordable for volume applications. By going through the substantial development effort of producing its Alvium ASIC, Allied Vision hopes to tap into larger volume applications for imaging. Braun commented: ‘A lot of applications are only available with ASICs.’

Alvium will contain up to 90 processing features; it is compatible with more than 100 different image sensors, including sensors that Sony plans to release in the future. It offers MIPI CSI-2 and USB 3.0 interfaces, and Braun said that the ASIC has been designed for longevity, to be used for the next five to ten years.

The time-to-market for building an application is reasonably slow when working with an ASIC, and the design flow is complex. But once the application has been designed, the unit cost is low, the unit size is small, it gives high performance, and it doesn’t consume much power.

Alvium will contain a MIPI CSI-2 (camera serial interface), a standard governed by the MIPI Alliance for mobile consumer products, but which is being considered by the Future Standards Forum of the G3 vision group as a potential machine vision standard to cater for embedded cameras infiltrating the market.

CSI-2 was released in 2005, but is now mature enough for machine vision’s needs – that is, it isn’t going to change – according to Braun. It is implemented in image sensors from Sony and Omnivision, as well as embedded boards from NXP Freescale, and Jetson GPUs from Nvidia. Braun added that CSI-2 will support industrial boards for years.

CSI-2 is twice as fast as USB 3.0 and ten times faster than GigE. It only has a short cable length of around 40cm and integration effort is high, but the CPU load on the host is low as it doesn’t require package handling.

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