How USB is Shaping the Future of Machine Vision

September 25, 2014 at 10:00 AM

 

Here at L-com we are a member of the AIA (Automated Imaging Association) trade group, the world's largest machine vision trade group. As a member we feel that it is our duty to give you some insight on how advances in USB 3.0 technology are affecting the growth of machine vision.

 

First of all-- for those who don’t already know, machine vision is defined as the methods and technology used to provide imaging-based automatic inspection and analysis.

 

Machine vision systems use cameras and image processing software to perform inspections, similar to how human inspectors on assembly lines visually inspect the quality of the products. Examples of applications where this takes place include automatic inspection, process control, and robot guidance in industry.

 

Machine vision inspection plays an important role in achieving 100% quality control in manufacturing. This reduces costs and ensures a high level of customer satisfaction. However, one of the main challenges designers face in machine vision today is market demand for HD imaging and the need for greater bandwidth based on increasing sensor resolution and frame rate.

 

Current systems are forced to compromise between image quality and compression. Higher levels of compression limit the accuracy and performance of machine vision systems.

 

But have no fear; this is where USB 3.0 comes to the rescue.

With USB 3.0, designers now have additional bandwidth at their disposal. USB 3.0 is fast -- with a 5 Gbps data rate, which is a 10x increase over USB 2.0 (480 Mbps). The increased bandwidth substantially reduces the time required for transferring large amounts of data or video.

 

As the EE Times stated it, designers can more readily increase image resolution and frame rate with greater bandwidth while still preserving image quality. Without the need for compression, designers can also reduce the amount of memory required in systems.  This translates to a lower BOM, smaller PCB, and reduced power consumption.

 

L-com offers a large variety of USB cables, and our cables are manufactured per the mechanical requirements of the USB 3.0 Vision standard. In addition to supporting the machine vision camera market, the screw mount hardware required for USB 3.0 Vision cables is beneficial in many other applications where standard USB connectors can become dislodged due to jostling, vibration, or other factors.

 

Have a look at our USB 3.0 selection here!

 

Former Editor-In-Chief of PC Magazine Rocks Out with L-com USB Guitar

May 15, 2014 at 10:00 AM

 

(photo by Bill Machrone)

 

This is quite possibly one of the coolest ways we’ve ever seen our USB adapter used.

 

You don’t have to be a lover of music, lover of all things guitars, or even a lover of techie building projects to appreciate this guy’s experiment (though it’s so well done it deserves more credit than just being a neat experiment).   

 

Bill Machrone, former editor-in-chief of PC Magazine, put L-com’s USB ECF Adapter Cable (part number ECF504-12AAS) to good use when he decided to build a USB enabled guitar. Machrone was well equipped with the necessary tools and experience in electronics to take on the task. Having built both electric and acoustic guitars before also helped Machrone set off to construct this one of a kind instrument.


As part of that design, Machrone had to figure out which USB jack to use.

 

“One of the reasons I went to L-com was because they have such a complete catalog,” said Machrone, “You can find anything, any type of connectivity gear.” Machrone had done a lot of research for this part of the project. He had an idea of what he wanted, but was surprised when he couldn’t find it until hitting the L-com website.

 

One of the reasons Machrone chose L-com’s USB Type A Connector is because it had a polished metalized surface and a compatible square shape that could easily be added into the guitar.

 

“It had a lot going for it in terms of appearance and it was a convenient choice,” said Machrone.   

 

Selecting the USB jack was part of a 10 step process which Machrone outlines in his article for PC Magazine:


  1. 1. Select a guitar
  2. 2. Acquire a Micro USB board
  3. 3. Measure and cut for jack and module layout
  4. 4. Drill your holes
  5. 5. Ready the USB
  6. 6. Wire your interface
  7. 7. Craft a cover
  8. 8. Drill metal for the jacks
  9. 9. Insert the Micro USB board
  10. 9. Finishing touches

 

According to Machrone, there’s one simple explanation why you might want a USB port in an electric guitar: for convenience. With a USB port the guitar will not only rock out like normal, but will also automatically transmit the recording signals to your computer.

 

“It was like a problem solving exercise, deciding how I was going to connect it, adding the head phone jack and listening to myself as the software recorded it,” said Machrone, “It was fun.”

 

Another advantage to building your own USB Guitar is cost savings. If you select an inexpensive guitar to repurpose on your own, Machrone advised, it will most likely be cheaper since USB guitars sell for about $300 nowadays.

 

Above all, the excitement of the finished product makes all the hard work worth it. “Once I had it together, it started working, and that was a thrill,” Machrone exclaimed.

 

Machrone was also pleased with the quality output of the L-com USB jack, how it functioned within the guitar, and its durability. “I can say that it gets nicked and banged around and beat up,” said Machrone. “The last time I looked at the USB jack it was in perfect shape. It’s standing up to the beating.”

 

For the full tutorial on building a USB guitar, visit Bill Machrone’s how-to at: http://machrone.net/usbguitar/

  

Hot Stuff! Low Smoke Zero Halogen (LSZH) USB Cables

December 3, 2013 at 10:00 AM


Flammability and Toxicity Ratings on Different Cable Types

 

 LSZH USB CableLSZH USB Cable

 

 

What would happen if your cables caught on fire?

 

There's actually much more to consider than the obvious flames and danger. Gasses you can't see and destruction to the inner cable conductors can endanger lives and destroy valuable communications equipment. 

 

To avoid that unknown, here’s a snapshot of USB cable jackets and looking into what yours is made of. Most commercially available cable assemblies have an outer jacket made from polyvinyl chloride, or PVC for short. Another alternative chemical compound that a cable's outer jacket can be made of is called Low Smoke Zero Halogen (LSZH), which reduces the amount of toxic and corrosive gases emitted during combustion.   

 

PVC is a durable, flexible plastic material perfect for most general applications.  If you were to buy a deluxe or premium USB cable, PVC is the type of jacket it would have. Yet for all of its benefits, PVC has some downsides- the biggest of which is the way it burns

 

Once PVC has caught fire it typically burns freely for a long while and releases toxic gasses in the process, including harmful halogens. In a building fire, the danger is that flames can burn along the cable jackets behind a wall and leap from room to room or floor to floor.   In most building fires the toxic gasses are not a big factor since occupants can get outside, and since USB cable is rarely run behind a wall, most manufacturers don't bother making them with non-PVC jackets.

 

But in some instances, a building fire isn’t the only scenario to consider.  Military and aerospace applications add another element to the danger:  people don’t always have outdoor access.  In fact, any application where people are working in close proximity with cable assemblies and cannot easily get ventilation in the event of a fire would require a special jacket material for the cables.

 

USB with LSZH Jackets

 

Though USB is not often run behind a wall and the USB standard is typically only used in peripheral-to-computer applications (including many in military and aerospace environments), having many PVC USB cables can lead to a dangerous situation.  LSZH cables, on the other hand, are self extinguishing. For that reason, L-com has made LSZH USB cables an off-the-shelf product, available for same-day shipping. 

  

 

Standard LSZH USB cables are constructed similarly to the premium line of USB cables: they have 20 AWG power conductors for maximum power transfer, and have 30 micro inches of gold on the contacts to ensure reliable connections through multiple mating cycles. Along with the standard type LSZH cables, L-com also carries a line of its "latching" USB cables with LSZH jackets.  These cables have small latches in the Type A connectors that lock the connector in place.

 

LSZH USB cables with Latches prove to be especially valuable in high-vibration environments such as in a military vehicle or in a device that is meant to be carried over rough terrain. Don’t overlook endangering personnel and valuable communications equipment by using standard PVC USB cables; LSZH USB cables might be better for your application.

 

For more information check out our ratings chart below, or this helpful video on cable flammability tests.

 

USB Flammability Ratings

 

A Tutorial on USB

May 22, 2013 at 10:00 AM

 

What exactly is USB?

USB Cable

 

USB stands for Universal Serial Bus and is a connectivity standard that transfers large amounts of data between devices. While it is far from the first standard designed for this purpose, the need for an effective method to transfer data between devices has become enormous due to the increase in portable and mobile devices.

 

The USB standard does just this, providing a universal method across different products and manufacturers. Other, "proprietary" standards exist, but they are often derivatives of USB with slight changes to the wiring or physical connector type.

 

 

Types of USB Cabling and Connectors

 

In the years since USB was first implemented, there have been three dominant versions, each providing faster data throughput than the last. USB 1.1, sometimes called "full-speed", can transfer data at about 12 Mbps. USB 2.0, which is currently the most common, operates at 480 Mbps. The latest standard, USB 3.0, operates at over 4.8 Gbps (about 10 times that of USB 2.0).

 

The most common USB connector types, Type A and Type B, are the same throughout the different versions. Though, other connector types such as the Mini B4, Mini B5, and Micro B are gaining popularity for their small size, which is preferred in smaller portable electronics such as mobile phones and tablets.

 

However, even if the connectors are similar, the cable itself must be constructed to the standard. For example, a USB 2.0 compliant cable could not pass 4.8 Gbps of data even if it were plugged into a USB 3.0 compliant device.

 

 

Why is USB so popular?

 

USB has several advantages over other standards that are used for the same purpose. First, it is a "hot connection", or has the ability to plug and unplug into a computer without causing it to freeze or causing programs to crash. USB is also uniquely designed to carry some low-voltage power which makes it capable of powering or charging devices that it is plugged into.

 

Also, though most applications only need standard USB cables, another advantage of USB is that it has the capability of specialization. Today we are seeing a rapid expansion of USB applications which require more specialized cabling- outdoor, wet or dusty environments, high-vibration situations, and places where special flame ratings, armor, or angled connectors are required. 

 

Check out our detailed USB tutorial here. Or, if you find yourself in this kind of special situation, try browsing L-com's USB product center for innovative solutions.

 

Using Latching USB Cables for Vibration-Proof Connections

April 24, 2013 at 10:00 AM


Latching USB Cables

One of the most successful connectivity technologies is Universal Serial Bus or USB 2.0. Why? You can find it everywhere, from laptops and desktop computers to peripheral devices like printers, mice and keyboards, to consumer electronics like cell phones and camcorders. 

 

(Click here for a tutorial on USB technology.)

 

Surprisingly though, there are some fundamental problems with USB 2.0, one of which is its sensitivity to vibration.

Latching USB Drawing

 

USB 2.0 uses what's called a "friction fit" to remain connected, which means the friction between the connector and the jack is all that holds the connection together. As you'd find with vehicles and in military/aerospace applications, vibration can cause connectors to unexpectedly separate.

 

L-com has countered this problem by offering "latching" USB 2.0 cables.  The latches, which are on the sides of the connector, fit into any standard USB 2.0 female jacks.  Currently latches are only available on USB 2.0 Type A male connectors and they come standard on micro-B male connectors. L-com offers:

 

 
 
Quick note: Latching connectors are also available for SATA cables.
 
Additionally, L-com now offers USB 3.0 cables with locking thumbscrews. These cables can be used in machine vision applications or with any application where vibration is an issue.
 
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