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Camera Interfaces Evolve to Address Growing Vision Processing Needs

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Before a still image or video stream can be analyzed, it must first be captured and transferred to the processing subsystem. Cameras, along with the interfaces that connect them to the remainder of the system, are therefore critical aspects of any computer vision design. This article provides an overview of camera interfaces, and discusses their evolutions and associated standards, both in general and with specific respect to particular applications. It also introduces an industry alliance available to help product creators incorporate robust vision capabilities into their designs.

Cameras, along with the processors and algorithms that analyze the images captured by them, are an integral part of any computer vision system. A variety of interface options, each with a corresponding set of strengths and shortcomings, exist for connecting cameras to the remainder of the design. And the options list isn't static; legacy standards (both de facto and official) lay the foundations for the emerging standards that follow them.

These interface options cover the connections between standalone cameras and systems, as well as and the links between both camera modules and image sensors and other ICs within an integrated system. Sometimes, camera interface requirements are by necessity application-specific. However, whenever possible, it's beneficial from volume cost amortization and other standpoints to be able to generalize these requirements across classes of applications. And performance, power consumption, cost, breadth of existing industry support (and future trends in this regard) and other factors are all key considerations to be explored and traded off as needed in any particular implementation.

In this article we will first discuss interface standards for industrial vision systems, then turn our attention to automotive-related standards, and conclude with a discussion of intra-system camera- and sensor-to-processor interfaces.

Industrial Vision

In the machine and industrial vision market segment, digital cameras are replacing their analog forebears and find use in diverse applications, including production processes (PCB inspection, glass surface inspection, robot control, etc.) and hyperspectral imaging. Digital cameras are expected to deliver long-term reliability, real-time capability, and exceptional image quality. And as imaging requirements have evolved, so too have fidelity, frame rates and resolution needs. Gone are the days of 15 Hz video captured at 1.3 Mpixels per frame. Today's cameras are capable of operating at hundreds...