Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Analogue cameras – back from the grave?

Take a look at the YouTube video I’ve embedded below. It shows a camera dubbed the AF-1501 from a California-based company called MoviMED that’s been incorporated into a mobile “robot.” (I’m using quotes there because I’m not sure it really meets my definition of a robot, but it’s clever nevertheless.

When you watch the video, pay close attention to the camera cable as it’s hooked up to the NI CompactRIO platform – it’s analogue.

I find this very curious and can only assume it’s done for cost reasons. Or is it something to do with Compact RIO itself? I’m not familiar with the product but maybe it doesn’t run a Windows OS?

The MoviMED online store implies that a basic framegrabber should be purchased along with the AF-1501 itself, but the total package price is still under $1,000. You’ll need to add software, although I think there’s an assumption that buyers will already be invested in the NI Vision Development Module. That said, it still looks to me like inexpensive machine vision.

And to think they said that analogue is dead.

1 comment:

Carlos Agell said...

Thanks to B Grey for commenting on MoviMED's AF-1501. There are few points that should be clarified with regard to this unit:

- The AF-1501 is an Analog Framegrabber module for Compact RIO, so yes, it takes Analog Video (NTSC/PAL/SECAM) and digitizes it for the RIO platform.
- There seems to be some misunderstanding in the post about what the AF-1501 actually is. The posting stated:

"The MoviMED online store implies that a basic framegrabber should be purchased along with the AF-1501 itself, but the total package price is still under $1,000."

The AF-1501 module actually IS the framegrabber. If you meant to say "a basic /camera/ should be purchased along with the AF-1501 itself...", then you are correct.

To summarize, in order to make it work you need
a) A compact RIO platform with LabVIEW
b) An AF-1501
c) An analog camera to hook it up
d) The drivers (downloadable from movimed.com)

- Analog Video on RIO makes a lot of sense for robotic applications. Being able to process images and actuate (motors, valves, solenoids) on the same platform without the need of a PC is really a new thing for the Machine Vision industry. Removing the PC from the Machine Vision Solution is actually really useful for system validation (no need to deal with windows issues, such as non-determinism, non-real-time behavior, automatic updates, antivirus and so on).

- On top of that, CompactRIO is being used a lot in research and educational environments to build simple robots. Take a look at the First Robotics Competition (most of the contestants use CompactRIO). They really need a way to acquire images for their robots to gather visual information.
- I would agree with you that Analog Video is not dead. It will take time to transition to Digital on CCTV systems. Moreover there are lots of surplus analog cameras out there to support cheap and simple Machine Vision applications. These are an effective low cost solution when combined with the AF-1501 and the cRIO platform.

- Compact RIO does not run Windows OS, it runs a real-time OS called VxWorks that is programmable using LabVIEW. Furthermore, Compact RIO (with the addition of the AF-1501) is one of the few Programmable Automation Controller (PAC) platforms able to handle Machine Vision for robotic applications.

I hope this clarifies the issues on the post.

Carlos Agell
Electronics Engineer