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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Lateral thinking takes the biscuit
Article Type: Editorial From: Sensor Review, Volume 29, Issue 1
I was somewhat amused to see (New Products in this issue) that Sick has brought out a 3D vision system for, amongst other things, biscuit inspection. I spent quite a few hours in biscuit factories about 25 years ago working on exactly the same problem and coincidentally, using the same line-of-light imaging technology. Mind you, the biscuits have not changed much in 25 years and so there is an argument that what was right then is also right now, applies just as much to industrial problem solving as it does to our culinary desires.
Is the above an example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or stagnation in technological development?
Almost at the other end of the scale we have some very interesting developments applied to automobile control (Connolly, 2009). These developments fuse together the disparate technologies of radar, laser scanning, image processing and biomedical nano sensors to achieve something that was not even a twinkle in the eye of lollipop ladies five years ago, let alone 25.
It seems strange to me that 3D line-of-light imaging which basically involves relatively simple thresholding and pixel measurement, and is therefore very easy from a technical point of view; has not progressed significantly. While applications such as the driver assistance covered in this paper, which are much more subjective, and therefore not so easy for computer technology to tackle, should have made such progress.
One big difference between the biscuit inspection and the driver assistance system is that the driver assistance takes a multi-sensor approach. For example, the system for measuring driver alertness may use both image processing to monitor the driver’s face for such things as driver blink rate and head posture, while heart rate and rather more subjective emotional states are monitored by skin sensors. This later development may sound a bit far fetched – who for example would want to get strapped into a heart monitor before popping down the shops to get a newspaper? However, it does not take too great a stretch of the imagination and even less technical advance to develop a steering wheel that can accomplish this feat with ease.
Imagine a car that can detect road-rage in its driver and administer soothing platitudes such as “be calm – life is good – better to arrive late than dead on time”. Well perhaps not – 1984 has not arrived just yet.
I firmly believe that great benefits may be obtained from having a broad knowledge of sensor technology rather than restricting yourself to niche specialty areas. Depth of knowledge is of course always important as well, but it is frequently the merging of ideas and knowledge that leads to a technical breakthrough.
All the time we are looking for the best or lowest cost solution to a particular problem and this frequently calls for a bit of lateral thinking. I hope that the ideas presented in this and previous issues will help equip you for the challenges ahead.
Connolly, C. (2009), “Driver assistance systems aim to halve traffic accidents”, Sensor Review, Vol. 29 No. 1, pp. 13–19