Monday, January 21, 2008


VISION 2007 and its new venue reveal the perils and the glory of machine-vision exhibitions
VISION 2007, held in Stuttgart, Germany, 6–8 November 2007, will be remembered as the largest, most impressive machine-vision show in the world by most attendees. Certainly, the nearly 300 exhibitors, a record visitor turnout, and a brand new location were cause for celebration. But not by all those who attended the show. One man fell head first down one of the escalators that linked the two halls where exhibitors demonstrated the latest hardware and software products. Another performed a rather large incision on his leg while attempting to open one of the packages he had shipped to the show. He was hospitalized.

And then, of course, there was yours truly. After the first day of the show, pounding along the uncarpeted concrete of the show halls, my right leg decided it had had enough. Back at the hotel, my right knee became rather large, probably due to an injury sustained while running after a young lady outside a fish-and-chip shop in England when I was 18 years old. After a 3 a.m. (0300 h) visit to the local “Krankenhaus” to see Dr. Schnuck, I was prescribed Ibuprofin. The doctor also thought that a certain amount of “foot tapping” exercise might be beneficial. It wasn’t quite what I had expected after paying out €137.94.

Michael Moore, of Sicko fame, is no longer one of my favorite film directors. For the next two days, I was confined to a wheelchair where I discovered the benefits and short falls of being temporarily handicapped in a foreign country. These benefits included high-speed traversing of the trade show, the lack of a need for excuses for being tardy for appointments, and the large amount of sympathy heaped upon me by my associates in the machine-vision community.

Unfortunately, especially for those in wheelchairs, the handicapped bathrooms on all the floors of the “Neue Messe” were locked. As you can imagine, a 50-something journalist hobbling into a bathroom in Germany and performing “foot-tapping” exercises was out of the question.

Despite my condition, I did manage to visit a large number of companies that exhibited in the two vast halls that comprised VISION 2007. For those of you that could not attend, let me describe the show.

The first hall was replete with rather smaller booths and newer, less-established companies that exhibited some very interesting technologies and applications. Many of these you can read about in this issue.

In the larger hall, many established companies seemed to be playing a booth game of “mine is bigger than yours.” Some, with really nothing new to introduce, had purchased voluminous booths with which to impress the attendees. In fact, some of these booths were so large that one felt lost in a “booth canyon” trying to see any other companies exhibiting. According to a spokesperson for the Messe, this will change next year when the show is moved into another hall the size of five baseball fields.

On the last day of the show, after receiving a rather long lecture about caring for myself from my publisher, Kathy Bush, it was time to leave. To do so, the trusty chariot that I had ridden for two days needed to be returned to the organizers. Before securing my wheelchair, my boss, Conard Holton, had left his American driving license as a “deposit.” Unfortunately, upon returning the chair, he found that the organizers had assumed that since it had not been returned on the first day, it had been stolen. Luckily, other members of our organization speak German. Otherwise, it seems, my boss would have been imprisoned for theft. Although some of you may think that hospital or prison is the best place for editors of trade magazines such as this, my publisher, like Queen Victoria, was not amused.

Hopefully, next year VISION 2008 will feature lushly carpeted hallways, bathrooms that open, and less bureaucratic staff. Other than that, VISION 2007 can only be rated 10/10 by this reviewer.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Needs of the Many

Parallel-processor-based systems offer system developers a path to real-time, high-speed image capture and analysis--but only in certain applications As many a Star Trek fan will tell you, one of the most memorable quotes from Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn (1982) is uttered by Mr. Spock. When asked whether Captain Kirk should assume command, Spock replies that “logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” This same concept was obviously on the minds of developers of the World Community Grid (WCG;, an organization intent on creating the largest public computing grid to benefit humanity.

The idea of the network is very simple. Researchers sign up with highly parallel computational tasks such x-ray crystallography and protein analysis. To perform this analysis requires large numbers of data sets to be analyzed, a procedure that can easily be accomplished on a distributed network of computers. Luckily, with more tahn 340,000 members and 840,000 processors networked online, the WCG is providing much of the computing power required.

But even with this number of distributed processors, the research tasks that need to be accomplished require an even larger number of computers. With this in mind, WCG developers are asking for donations—but not in the form of money. WCG wants to harness the power of your computer at home or at work to help speed this research. Basically, the idea is rather simple and resembles a peer-to-peer network.

To become a member of WCG, simply download a small program from the WCG Web site onto your computer. When your computer is idle, it requests data on a specific project from the WCG server. Your computer then performs computations on these data, sends the results back to the server, and asks the server for a new piece of work. Since each data set is only approximately 50 Mbytes, all of today’s PCs can easily handle the task.

The software also allows you to configure your system so that it can be set to perform these tasks during midnight hours or at weekends. To make this more interesting, you can set up your own “team”—get your friends and colleagues to join and accumulate “points” that, to be honest, are worth about as much as my frequent-flyer miles! So, instead of turning your computer in the office off when you leave for home you can leave it on knowing that you are contributing to invaluable research on cancer, climate change, and human proteome folding.

Avoiding gridlock
While many research projects such as these lend themselves naturally to parallel distributed processing, so do many machine-vision and image-processing tasks. In stereo image processing, for example, two processors can be used to simultaneously process image data from two independent cameras.

Indeed, in this issue, Homer Liu of QuantaView (Tokyo, Japan) describes how two Intel Xeon processors have been used for this very task (see “Vision-based robot plays ping-pong against human opponent,” p. xx). With the advent of dual- and quad-core processors, this trend is likely to continue as software vendors rework their code to take advantage of parallel-processing concepts.

To achieve the optimum performance for parallel-processor-based systems, however, developers will need to closely match the I/O, processing, and storage capabilities of such systems. Today’s Camera Link-based systems, for example, can be used to transfer data from a single camera to a host-based frame grabber at rates of up to 850 Mbytes/s using 85-MHz transceivers.

However, there is no single or multiprocessor von Neumann-based CPU commercially available that at present could possibly process individual images at this data rate, relegating such camera-based systems to high-speed image analysis where image data are captured and then later played back for image analysis. Because of this, it is likely that for the foreseeable future, heterogeneous networks of distributed computers may remain useful only for large-scale algorithmic research projects such as those currently running on the World Computing Grid.