Sunday Night Football Shows Machine Vision Advances

Nov. 20, 2013
The proliferation of HDTVs is making industrial machine vision systems more effective. CMOS sensor advancements provide manufacturers with an alternative to CCD-based cameras--and let the NFL deliver near-3D instant replays.

When you talk about drivers for manufacturing expansion in the U.S. and globally, sensors are bound to be part of the conversation. Specifically, CMOS sensors for machine vision cameras are front and center of that discussion, because the huge advances in speed and resolution they deliver have industrial manufacturers reexamining process industrial applications.

Television viewers of American football get to see state-of-the-art CMOS systems in action and may not even know it. Replay Technologies’ FreeD broadcast television replay system debuted on Sunday Night Football in the U.S. in early September to provide a “Matrix-like 3D rendering” of replays. The replay system uses CMOS-sensor based cameras from Canadian machine vision system and sensor maker Teledyne Dalsa to create a three-dimensional rendering of live action.

The NFL system includes hardware from 12 Falcon 2 12-megapixel CMOS color cameras―shooting from 12 different angles―connected to Xcelera frame grabbers.

Before CMOS, industrial users had to pay for every speed step you received, usually with CCD sensor- based cameras, and now “CMOS is almost magically giving users more for much, much less,” according to Finney. 

High-definition televisions (HDTVs) for consumers have decreased the cost of CMOS technology for everyone, said Brad Finney, North American vice president of sales for Teledyne Dalsa. “If you wanted 12 megapixels one or two years ago, you had to give up speed (frame rate). And if you wanted speed, you had to give up resolution,” he said.

CMOS sensor advancements now provide manufacturers with an alternative to CCD-based cameras, which provide both speed and resolution at sizable cost, said Finney. Two applications in the industrial space that could reap benefits from CMOS-based camera technology evolution are fluid-flow and wafer production. In those applications, particularly wafer production, high throughput and high resolution is needed at all costs.

OEMs building inspection and measurement systems for the fluid-flow and fabrication applications are now looking at high-resolution CMOS-based cameras to provide a lower-cost solution. With more digital functions on a CMOS chip, information is provided much more quickly to a system and minimal circuitry requires lower power for the camera, saving on total energy costs.   

Overall, machine vision camera sales are rising. A report from the vision and imaging association, AIA (www.visiononline.org), cites a 6 percent increase in total machine vision sales in North America for the second quarter of 2013, compared to 2Q 2012. Lighting, optics and imaging board sales all increased over last year, although cameras and software both saw decreases. Lower camera sales could be a signal that OEMs are taking a good look at CMOS-sensor camera technology for their next generation of inspection systems.

“While machine vision components were down in the second quarter, 69 percent of industry experts believe we will see an increase in sales over the next six months,” said Alex Shikany, AIA’s director of market analysis.

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