It's now practical to incorporate computer vision into a wide range of systems, enabling those systems to analyze their environments via video and still-image inputs. Historically, such image analysis technology has been found mainly in complex, expensive systems, such as military equipment and manufacturing quality-control inspection systems. However, cost, performance, and power consumption advances in digital integrated circuits, such as processors, memory devices, and image sensors, and the emergence of robust software algorithms, are now paving the way for the proliferation of visual intelligence into high-volume applications. The term "embedded vision" refers to the widespread use of computer vision in embedded systems, mobile devices, PCs, and the cloud.
Embedded Vision Goes Mainstream
In the way digital wireless communication technology became pervasive over the past 10 years, embedded vision technology is poised to become deployed widely over the next decade. High-speed wireless connectivity began as a costly niche technology. Advances in digital integrated circuits were critical in enabling it to evolve from exotic to mainstream. When chips got fast enough, inexpensive enough, and energy-efficient enough, high-speed wireless became a mass-market technology. Similarly, advances in digital chips are now paving the way for the proliferation of embedded vision into high-volume applications.
For example, smartphones and tablets typically include multiple image sensors. These sensors are primarily intended for photography, but are increasingly also being used for embedded-vision-enabled applications such as measuring your heart rate or translating text from one language to another. Vision-based safety systems have been shipping in high-end cars for several years and are now migrating into higher-volume mainstream models, using multiple cameras to monitor blind spots, assist in parking and other maneuvers, and provide early warning of impending collisions and other hazards.
Current-generation still and video cameras go beyond simple image capture and processing functions to incorporate more advanced analysis-and-response features such as face-detection-driven focus and exposure compensation. Advanced cameras will even delay the shutter activation until they discern that the subject is smiling. Similarly, video surveillance systems use pedestrian detection and other techniques not only to activate the video recording function but also send alerts to their owners. As such, they not only see but also are beginning to understand the environments in which they operate.
The diversity of emerging vision applications is impressive. In gaming, Microsoft's Kinect peripheral for the Xbox 360 game console and PC has begun to show the potential of embedded vision, selling more than 24 million units as of late February. Medical systems are increasingly supplementing human intelligence with computer vision-based algorithm analysis to assist in patient diagnosis and treatment. Market researchers and educators are exploring the ability to assess a person's emotional state from images of a face.
With embedded vision, the semiconductor industry is entering a virtuous circle of the sort that has characterized many other digital signal processing application domains. Although there are few chips specifically designed for embedded vision applications today, these applications are increasingly adopting ICs (including image sensors and various processor types) developed for other applications. As these chips continue to deliver more performance per dollar and per watt, they will enable the creation of more high-volume embedded vision products. Those high-volume applications, in turn, will attract more attention from silicon providers, who will deliver even better performance, power efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.
The Embedded Vision Alliance
Embedded vision technology has the potential to enable a wide range of electronic products that are more intelligent and responsive than before, and thus more valuable to users. It can add helpful features to existing products. It can provide significant new markets for hardware, software, and semiconductor manufacturers. The Embedded Vision Alliance, a worldwide organization of technology developers and providers, is working to empower engineers to transform this potential into reality.
First and foremost, the Alliance's mission is to provide engineers with practical education, information, and insights to help them incorporate embedded vision capabilities into new and existing products. To execute this mission, the Alliance maintains a website providing tutorial articles, videos, code downloads, and a discussion forum staffed by a diversity of technology experts. Registered website users can also receive the Alliance’s twice-monthly email newsletter, among other benefits.