Machine vision is a rapidly growing field, with new applications emerging across various industries including manufacturing, construction, and architecture. Advances in machine vision systems will support the transition to Industry 4.0 and create the factories of the future.
One critical component of any machine vision system is the camera. Since machine vision systems give machines the ability to ‘see,’ the quality of the system’s camera is important. New developments in camera technology – more specifically, lensless camera technology – are changing the way industry professionals think about machine vision.
Take a deeper look at 3D lensless cameras and how they can help grow the field of machine vision.
Machine Vision in the Industrial Space
Machine vision has a major role to play in current industrial applications. Some of its most common uses include identifying, sorting, and tracking products, visual inspection and defect detection, and positioning and measuring parts.
In a manufacturing setting, for example, machine vision systems require:
- Adequate lighting
- Lens system
- Capture board, sensor, or frame grabber
Two types of cameras are used for machine vision: Area scan cameras and line scan cameras. Area scan cameras are mainly used to scan objects with the same height and width, whereas line scan cameras build images pixel by pixel.
The camera lenses in machine vision systems vary in optical quality just like many other pieces of industrial equipment. For example, spectrometers can fall under general-purpose or high-sensitivity categories to meet the needs of the user.
Researchers Develop 3D Lensless Camera
The most important elements of any machine vision system are its cameras. Machine vision systems require cameras, which traditionally use lenses to capture images, to process the surrounding environment.
A traditional camera requires a lens system, but new research suggests that advancements in computing technology eliminate the need for a lens system, creating a new product category called 3D lensless cameras.
In 2022, a pair of researchers at the University of California, Davis, created a camera system consisting of a small microlens array. The system also leverages various image processing algorithms to capture 3D data about objects in an environment with a single exposure. Three important use cases for this new camera emerged, including:
- Data collection for 3D display systems
- Industrial part inspection
- Gesture recognition
According to their paper on the new camera, the researchers share that traditional 3D imaging systems face drawbacks. For instance, larger cameras with lenses are limited, as they cannot obtain images with a compact device footprint, fast processing speeds, or high imaging quality.
The lensless camera solves these problems, is portable, and can recover 3D renderings of objects from a single shot. The microlens array is made of a flexible, lightweight polymer. The lensless camera can manage complex image processing tasks, observe objects from unique viewing angles, and gather data about partially obscured or close-up objects.
Feng Tian and Weijian Yang were the two researchers involved in this project. They claim their lensless camera can produce 3D images in real-time. The camera can accomplish this because it learns from existing data regarding the digital reconstruction of 3D scenes.
How Lensless Imaging Supports Machine Vision Applications
Without a lens, cameras can support rapid growth in the machine vision landscape. Imagine how businesses would benefit from the camera described above. It can vastly improve current machine vision systems by speeding up image processing, gathering data about a wider variety of objects, and even providing data in real-time.
Here’s how lensless imaging technologies can support various machine vision applications across different industries.
Machine vision has several use cases in the automotive industry. Adding new technologies to modern vehicles requires closer, more detailed inspections from manufacturers.
Machine vision – particularly systems with lensless cameras – could gather real-time data about finished vehicles, identify any defects in cars, or make observations with greater accuracy than human employees.
Inspections and proper packaging of pharmaceuticals are crucial. Quality is a top concern for pharmaceutical companies, as their reputations rely on maintaining safe, high-quality products.
Accurate, real-time data from machine vision systems using a lensless camera can help pharmaceutical companies maintain quality control and increase productivity. Leveraging the automation of inspection processes allows employees to handle more important, non-repetitive tasks.
Shipping and Logistics
Every shipping, logistics, and transportation company faced significant challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many companies adopted new technologies like AI and big data solutions to meet new expectations, overcome shipping snarls, and maintain productivity during a global pandemic.
Shipping and logistics industry operators can leverage machine vision systems with lensless cameras to gain more operational visibility and control. Damaged packages or defective items can be spotted before being shipped, reducing costs and maintaining quality control.
Expect More Imaging Advancements in Machine Vision
Machine vision is expected to grow at a rapid pace in the coming years. With new technologies and innovations, such as the 3D, portable, and lensless camera, machine vision systems will evolve and gain more capabilities than ever before. It’ll be interesting to see how lensless cameras continue to advance and whether they become staples in the machine vision market.
Author: Jane Marsh – Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co