Sensors are often engineered replications of human sensory organs. Digital imaging sensors have been particularly important in this regard. Image processing is a relatively new field which stemmed from (and grew with) technical advancements made in the electronic recording, transmission, and analysis of images.
Their development is marked by a series of milestones, but the decisive breakthrough in wide-scale industrial applications came in 1974 with the development of the imaging semiconductor circuit by Willard Boyle and George E. Smith in the United States. This was then furthered by the development of microprocessors, also in the U.S. By the 1980s, the technology had entered use in business. Ever since, image processing and its use in industry have continually expanded with experienced double-digit growth, hand in hand with the creation of high-quality jobs in the field of research and development and strong value creation.
Image processing is the technical equivalent of the human visual senses, and, in the engineering field, it is as important as the human ability to take in pictures and understand them. More than 90% of the information humans perceive from their environment is sensed through the eyes. It is similar in engineering: of all the sensors available, image sensors provide the largest volumes of information and data streams. As with humans, the system that coordinates the eye, optic nerve, and the brain consists of the image recorder (camera), the connection (interface), and image analysis (computer with software). Central to this is how to replicate the human ability to see and recognize images, taking us as far as the realms of artificial intelligence. The human eye has between 6 and 7 million cones to perceive color and 75-150 million rods to perceive black and white. It is highly adaptable, sensitive to light, has an angle of vision of nearly 180 degrees, and sees razorsharp images at the center. It is also capable of seeing images in stereo, capturing different colors and already pre-processing information within the eye. The optic nerve contains a million nerve fibers, and the eyes and head can be moved around. In a parallel process, the brain conducts its analysis. It has the ability to recognize objects based on fragments of information, detect edges in fuzzy images, and adjust colors. When it comes to evaluating images, the human brain is vastly superior to modern computer algorithms, but there are now hightech sensors that are coming close to the performance of human sensors. One area where technical sensors do have the upper hand is when it comes to measuring lengths. They do this objectively whereas humans can only make educated guesses. Technical sensors can also run 24 hours a day, in quick repetition, without tiring.
Digital sensors and image processing sensors are a key technology. They can be applied in a variety of fields of digital image processing, the most essential ones being industrial quality assurance and measurement technology, which now account for roughly 80% of all applications. Only around 20% of all possible applications are currently understood or being exploited (Schwarzkopf 2006).
The important role played by digital image processing in industry is intensifying rapidly, especially in the fields of medicine, transportation, security technology, and defense technology. But this is also the case in society as a whole. Against a backdrop of developments relating to digitalization, miniaturization, smart technology, standardization, globally uniform interfaces, color capabilities, and the need to offer affordable prices, the rate at which sensors and image processing technologies are now being integrated into products, processes, and services is accelerating. Society is being revolutionized by digital sensors and image processing (smart technologies) in connection with modern microprocessors and signal processors. This development will continue at breakneck speed, as testified by autonomous vehicles, driver assistance systems in cars, and smartphones.
In this latest edition of TRANSFER, we focus the spotlight more closely on sensors and image processing, introducing a number of experts and projects in the Steinbeis Network. I hope you find it an interesting read!
Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Gerhard Lins
Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Gerhard Lins is founder of the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Quality Assurance and Image Processing and founding director of Steinbeis Qualitatssicherung und Bildverarbeitung GmbH. In 2004, Gerhard Lins and his team of Steinbeis experts won the Steinbeis Foundation prize for transfer alongside Carl Zeiss Industrielle Messtechnik GmbH. They received the Lohn Award for a collaborative project called ViSCAN: Light- Based Precision Measurement. In 2008, he won the award with WAFIOS AG with a newly developed image processing system for use in quality control in spring production. Finally, in 2011, the center won an award with NT TOOL Corporation, for a project called Intuitive Software for a New Optical Tool Presetter.