Upgraded Ensenso 3D camera series now available at IDS
Resolution and accuracy have almost doubled, the price has remained the same – those who choose 3D cameras from the Ensenso N series can now benefit from more advanced models. The new stereo vision cameras (N31, N36, N41, N46) can now be purchased from IDS Imaging Development Systems.
The Ensenso N 3D cameras have a compact housing (made of aluminium or plastic composite, depending on the model) with an integrated pattern projector. They are suitable for capturing both static and moving objects. The integrated projector projects a high-contrast texture onto the objects in question. A pattern mask with a random dot pattern complements non-existing or only weakly visible surface structures. This allows the cameras to deliver detailed 3D point clouds even in difficult lighting conditions.
With the Ensenso models N31, N36, N41 and N46, IDS is now launching the next generation of the previously available N30, N35, N40 and N45. Visually, the cameras do not differ from their predecessors. They do, however, use a new sensor from Sony, the IMX392. This results in a higher resolution (2.3 MP instead of 1.3 MP). All cameras are pre-calibrated and therefore easy to set up. The Ensenso selector on the IDS website helps to choose the right model.
Whether firmly installed or in mobile use on a robot arm: with Ensenso N, users opt for a 3D camera series that provides reliable 3D information for a wide range of applications. The cameras prove their worth in single item picking, for example, support remote-controlled industrial robots, are used in logistics and even help to automate high-volume laundries. IDS provides more in-depth insights into the versatile application possibilities with case studies on the company website.
Anyone who needs quickly available industrial cameras for image processing projects is not faced with an easy task due to the worldwide chip shortage. IDS Imaging Development Systems GmbH has therefore been pushing the development of alternative USB3 hardware generations with available, advanced semiconductor technology in recent months and has consistently acquired components for this purpose. Series production of new industrial cameras with USB3 interface and Vision Standard compatibility has recently started. In the CP and LE camera series of the uEye+ product line, customers can choose the right model for their applications from a total of six housing variants and numerous CMOS sensors.
The models of the uEye CP family are particularly suitable for space-critical applications thanks to their distinctive, compact magnesium housing with dimensions of only 29 x 29 x 29 millimetres and a weight of around 50 grams. Customers can choose from global and rolling shutter sensors from 0.5 to 20 MP in this product line. Those who prefer a board-level camera instead should take a look at the versatile uEye LE series. These cameras are available with coated plastic housings and C-/CS-mount lens flanges as well as board versions with or without C-/CS-mount or S-mount lens connections. They are therefore particularly suitable for projects in small device construction and integration in embedded vision systems. IDS initially offers the global shutter Sony sensors IMX273 (1.6 MP) and IMX265 (3.2 MP) as well as the rolling shutter sensors IMX290 (2.1 MP) and IMX178 (6.4 MP). Other sensors will follow.
The USB3 cameras are perfectly suited for use with IDS peak thanks to the vision standard transport protocol USB3 Vision®. The Software Development Kit includes programming interfaces in C, C++, C# with .NET and Python as well as tools that simplify the programming and operation of IDS cameras while optimising factors such as compatibility, reproducible behaviour and stable data transmission. Special convenience features reduce application code and provide an intuitive programming experience, enabling quick and easy commissioning of the cameras.
Lettuce is a valuable crop in Europe and the USA. But labor shortages make it difficult to harvest this valuable field vegetable, as sourcing sufficient seasonal labor to meet harvesting commitments is one of the sector’s biggest challenges. Moreover, with wage inflation rising faster than producer prices, margins are very tight. In England, agricultural technology and machinery experts are working with IDS Imaging Development Systems GmbH (Obersulm, Germany) to develop a robotic solution to automate lettuce harvesting.
The team is working on a project funded by Innovate UK and includes experts from the Grimme agricultural machinery factory, the Agri-EPI Centre (Edinburgh UK), Harper Adams University (Newport UK), the Centre for Machine Vision at the University of the West of England (Bristol) and two of the UK’s largest salad producers, G’s Fresh and PDM Produce.
Within the project, existing leek harvesting machinery is adapted to lift the lettuce clear from the ground and grip it in between pinch belts. The lettuce’s outer, or ‘wrapper’, leaves will be mechanically removed to expose the stem. Machine vision and artificial intelligence are then used to identify a precise cut point on the stem to to neatly separate the head of lettuce.
„The cutting process of an iceberg is the most technically complicated step in the process to automate, according to teammates from G subsidiary Salad Harvesting Services Ltd.“, explains IDS Product Sales Specialist Rob Webb. „The prototype harvesting robot being built incorporates a GigE Vision camera from the uEye FA family. It is considered to be particularly robust and is therefore ideally suited to demanding environments. „As this is an outdoor application, a housing with IP65/67 protection is required here“, Rob Webb points out.
The choice fell on the GV-5280FA-C-HQ model with the compact 2/3″ global shutter CMOS sensor IMX264 from Sony. „The sensor was chosen mainly because of its versatility. We don’t need full resolution for AI processing, so sensitivity can be increased by binning. The larger sensor format means that wide-angle optics are not needed either“, Rob Webb summarized the requirements. In the application, the CMOS sensor convinces with excellent image quality, light sensitivity and exceptionally high dynamic range and delivers almost noise-free, very high-contrast 5 MP images in 5:4 format at 22 fps – even in applications with fluctuating light conditions. The extensive range of accessories, such as lens tubes and trailing cables, is just as tough as the camera housing and the screwable connectors (8-pin M12 connector with X-coding and 8-pin Binder connector). Another advantage: camera-internal functions such as pixel pre-processing, LUT or gamma reduce the required computer power to a minimum.
The prototype of the robotic mower will be used for field trials in England towards the end of the 2021 season.
„We are delighted to be involved in the project and look forward to seeing the results. We are convinced of its potential to automate and increase the efficiency of the lettuce harvest, not only in terms of compensating for the lack of seasonal workers“, affirms Jan Hartmann, Managing Director of IDS Imaging Development Systems GmbH.
The challenges facing the agricultural sector are indeed complex. According to a forecast by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agricultural productivity will have to increase by almost 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2012 due to the dramatic increase in population. Such a yield expectation means an enormous challenge for the agricultural industry, which is still in its infancy in terms of digitalization compared to other sectors and is already under high pressure to innovate in view of climatic changes and labor shortages. The agriculture of the future is based on networked devices and automation. Cameras are an important building block, and artificial intelligence is a central technology here. Smart applications such as harvesting robots can make a significant contribution to this.
All-in-one embedded vision platform with new tools and functions
(PresseBox) (Obersulm) At IDS, image processing with artificial intelligence does not just mean that AI runs directly on cameras and users also have enormous design options through vision apps. Rather, with the IDS NXT ocean embedded vision platform, customers receive all the necessary, coordinated tools and workflows to realise their own AI vision applications without prior knowledge and to run them directly on the IDS NXT industrial cameras. Now follows the next free software update for the AI package. In addition to the topic of user-friendliness, the focus is also on making artificial intelligence clear and comprehensible for the user.
An all-in-one system such as IDS NXT ocean, which has integrated computing power and artificial intelligence thanks to the „deep ocean core“ developed by IDS, is ideally suited for entry into AI Vision. It requires no prior knowledge of deep learning or camera programming. The current software update makes setting up, deploying and controlling the intelligent cameras in the IDS NXT cockpit even easier. For this purpose, among other things, an ROI editor is integrated with which users can freely draw the image areas to be evaluated and configure, save and reuse them as custom grids with many parameters. In addition, the new tools Attention Maps and Confusion Matrix illustrate how the AI works in the cameras and what decisions it makes. This helps to clarify the process and enables the user to evaluate the quality of a trained neural network and to improve it through targeted retraining. Data security also plays an important role in the industrial use of artificial intelligence. As of the current update, communication between IDS NXT cameras and system components can therefore be encrypted via HTTPS.
Just get started with the IDS NXT ocean Creative Kit
Anyone who wants to test the industrial-grade embedded vision platform IDS NXT ocean and evaluate its potential for their own applications should take a look at the IDS NXT ocean Creative Kit. It provides customers with all the components they need to create, train and run a neural network. In addition to an IDS NXT industrial camera with 1.6 MP Sony sensor, lens, cable and tripod adapter, the package includes six months‘ access to the AI training software IDS NXT lighthouse. Currently, IDS is offering the set in a special promotion at particularly favourable conditions. Promotion page: https://en.ids-imaging.com/ids-nxt-ocean-creative-kit.html.
Autonomously driving robotic assistance system for the automated placement of coil creels
Due to the industry standard 4.0, digitalisation, automation and networking of systems and facilities are becoming the predominant topics in production and thus also in logistics. Industry 4.0 pursues the increasing optimisation of processes and workflows in favour of productivity and flexibility and thus the saving of time and costs. Robotic systems have become the driving force for automating processes. Through the Internet of Things (IoT), robots are becoming increasingly sensitive, autonomous, mobile and easier to operate. More and more they are becoming an everyday helper in factories and warehouses. Intelligent imaging techniques are playing an increasingly important role in this.
To meet the growing demands in scaling and changing production environments towards fully automated and intelligently networked production, the company ONTEC Automation GmbH from Naila in Bavaria has developed an autonomously driving robotic assistance system. The „Smart Robot Assistant“ uses the synergies of mobility and automation: it consists of a powerful and efficient intralogistics platform, a flexible robot arm and a robust 3D stereo camera system from the Ensenso N series by IDS Imaging Development Systems GmbH.
The solution is versatile and takes over monotonous, weighty set-up and placement tasks, for example. The autonomous transport system is suitable for floor-level lifting of Euro pallets up to container or industrial format as well as mesh pallets in various sizes with a maximum load of up to 1,200 kilograms. For a customer in the textile industry, the AGV (Automated Guided Vehicle) is used for the automated loading of coil creels. For this purpose, it picks up pallets with yarn spools, transports them to the designated creel and loads it for further processing. Using a specially developed gripper system, up to 1000 yarn packages per 8-hour shift are picked up and pushed onto a mandrel of the creel. The sizing scheme and the position of the coils are captured by an Ensenso 3D camera (N45 series) installed on the gripper arm.
Pallets loaded with industrial yarn spools are picked up from the floor of a predefined storage place and transported to the creel location. There, the gripper positions itself vertically above the pallet. An image trigger is sent to the Ensenso 3D camera from the N45 series, triggered by the in-house software ONTEC SPSComm. It networks with the vehicle’s PLC and can thus read out and pass on data. In the application, SPSComm controls the communication between the software parts of the vehicle, gripper and camera. This way, the camera knows when the vehicle and the grabber are in position to take a picture. This takes an image and passes on a point cloud to a software solution from ONTEC based on the standard HALCON software, which reports the coordinates of the coils on the pallet to the robot. The robot can then accurately pick up the coils and process them further. As soon as the gripper has cleared a layer of the yarn spools, the Ensenso camera takes a picture of the packaging material lying between the yarn spools and provides point clouds of this as well. These point clouds are processed similarly to provide the robot with the information with which a needle gripper removes the intermediate layers. „This approach means that the number of layers and finishing patterns of the pallets do not have to be defined in advance and even incomplete pallets can be processed without any problems,“ explains Tim Böckel, software developer at ONTEC. „The gripper does not have to be converted for the use of the needle gripper. For this application, it has a normal gripping component for the coils and a needle gripping component for the intermediate layers.“
For this task, the mobile use for 3D acquisition of moving and static objects on the robot arm, the Ensenso 3D camera is suitable due to its compact design. The Ensenso N 45’s 3D stereo electronics are completely decoupled from the housing, allowing the use of a lightweight plastic composite as the housing material. The low weight facilitates the use on robot arms such as the Smart Robotic Asstistant. The camera can also cope with demanding environmental conditions. „Challenges with this application can be found primarily in the different lighting conditions that are evident in different rooms of the hall and at different times of the day,“ Tim Böckel describes the situation. Even in difficult lighting conditions, the integrated projector projects a high-contrast texture onto the object to be imaged by means of a pattern mask with a random dot pattern, thus supplementing the structures on featureless homogenous surfaces. This means that the integrated camera meets the requirements exactly. „By pre-configuring within NxView, the task was solved well.“ This sample programme with source code demonstrates the main functions of the NxLib library, which can be used to open one or more stereo and colour cameras whose image and depth data are visualised. Parameters such as exposure time, binning, AOI and depth measuring range can – as in this case – be adjusted live for the matching method used.
The matching process empowers the Ensenso 3D camera to recognise a very high number of pixels, including their position change, by means of the auxiliary structures projected onto the surface and to create complete, homogeneous depth information of the scene from this. This in turn ensures the necessary precision with which the Smart Robot Assistant proceeds. Other selection criteria for the camera were, among others, the standard vision interface Gigabit Ethernet and the global shutter 1.3 MP sensor. „The camera only takes one image pair of the entire pallet in favour of a faster throughput time, but it has to provide the coordinates from a relatively large distance with an accuracy in the millimetre range to enable the robot arm to grip precisely,“ explains Matthias Hofmann, IT specialist for application development at ONTEC. „We therefore need the high resolution of the camera to be able to safely record the edges of the coils with the 3D camera.“ The localisation of the edges is important in order to be able to pass on as accurate as possible the position from the centre of the spool to the gripper.
Furthermore, the camera is specially designed for use in harsh environmental conditions. It has a screwable GPIO connector for trigger and flash and is IP65/67 protected against dirt, dust, splash water or cleaning agents.
The Ensenso SDK enables hand-eye calibration of the camera to the robot arm, allowing easy translation or displacement of coordinates using the robot pose. In addition, by using the internal camera settings, a „FileCam“ of the current situation is recorded at each pass, i.e. at each image trigger. This makes it possible to easily adjust any edge cases later on, in this application for example unexpected lighting conditions, obstacles in the image or also an unexpected positioning of the coils in the image. The Ensenso SDK also allows the internal camera LOG files to be stored and archived for possible evaluation.
ONTEC also uses these „FileCams“ to automatically check test cases and thus ensure the correct functioning of all arrangements when making adjustments to the vision software. In addition, various vehicles can be coordinated and logistical bottlenecks minimised on the basis of the control system specially developed by ONTEC. Different assistants can be navigated and act simultaneously in a very confined space. By using the industrial interface tool ONTEC SPSComm, even standard industrial robots can be safely integrated into the overall application and data can be exchanged between the different systems.
Further development of the system is planned, among other things, in terms of navigation of the autonomous vehicle. „With regard to vehicle navigation for our AGV, the use of IDS cameras is very interesting. We are currently evaluating the use of the new Ensenso S series to enable the vehicle to react even more flexibly to obstacles, for example, classify them and possibly even drive around them,“ says Tim Böckel, software developer at ONTEC, outlining the next development step.
ONTEC’s own interface configuration already enables the system to be integrated into a wide variety of Industry 4.0 applications, while the modular structure of the autonomously moving robot solution leaves room for adaptation to a wide variety of tasks. In this way, it not only serves to increase efficiency and flexibility in production and logistics, but in many places also literally contributes to relieving the workload of employees.