It looks like machine vision systems became even more popular last year. The North American machine vision market grew 14.4 percent to more than $1,517 million, according to the Quarterly Machine Vision Report from Vision Systems International (VSI). Nello Zuech, VSI's president, attributes a big chunk of that growth to application-specific "turnkey" systems, particularly those used in semiconductor manufacturing. "Capital spending in the semiconductor market grew about 20 percent last year, and machine vision sales into that market grew proportionally," Zuech says, adding that semiconductor manufacturing typically accounts for 20 to 25 percent of the total machine vision market. The market for configurable, general-purpose machine vision products grew by a smaller amount last year–by 4.6 percent to $331.7 million. Looking ahead to this year, Zuech expects that capital spending in semiconductor, automotive and other key industries won't be high enough to drive any additional machine vision growth in North America. "The market will most likely be flat in 2007, which isn't so bad given that 2006 was a really good year," he says.
Applied Research Associates has delivered several of its Pointman Tactical Robots to the CBP in Tucson, which the agency is using to explore drainage tunnels that run between Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Mexico. These tunnels are out of sight from border surveillance and are increasingly being used for illegal activity.