Machine vision
Machine vision is the process of applying a range of technologies and methods to provide imaging-based automatic inspection, process control and robot guidance in industrial applications. While the scope of MV is broad and a comprehensive definition is difficult to distil, a "generally accepted definition of machine vision is '... the analysis of images to extract data for controlling a process or activity.'"


The primary uses for machine vision are automatic inspection and robot guidance. Common MV applications include quality assurance
Quality Assurance
Quality assurance, or QA for short, is the systematic monitoring and evaluation of the various aspects of a project, service or facility to maximize the probability that minimum standards of quality are being attained by the production process...

, sorting, material handling, robot
Industrial robot
An industrial robot is defined by ISO as an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes...

 guidance, and optical gauging.


Machine vision methods are defined as both the process of defining and creating a MV solution, and as the technical process that occurs during the operation of the solution. Here the latter is addressed. As of 2006, there was little standardization in the interfacing and configurations used in MV. This includes user interfaces, interfaces for the integration of multi-component systems and automated data interchange. Nonetheless, the first step in the MV sequence of operation is acquisition of an image
Digital imaging
Digital imaging or digital image acquisition is the creation of digital images, typically from a physical scene. The term is often assumed to imply or include the processing, compression, storage, printing, and display of such images...

, typically using cameras, lenses, and lighting that has been designed to provide the differentiation required by subsequent processing. MV software packages then employ various digital image processing
Digital image processing
Digital image processing is the use of computer algorithms to perform image processing on digital images. As a subcategory or field of digital signal processing, digital image processing has many advantages over analog image processing...

 techniques to allow the hardware to recognize what it is looking at, extract the required information, and often make decisions (such as pass/fail) based on the extracted information.


While conventional (2D visible light) imaging is most commonly used in MV, alternatives include imaging various infrared bands, line scan imaging, 3D imaging of surfaces and X-ray imaging. Key divisions within MV 2D visible light imaging are monochromatic vs. color, resolution, and whether or not the imaging process is simultaneous over the entire image, making it suitable for moving processes.

The imaging device (e.g. camera) can either be separate from the main image processing unit or combined with it in which case the combination is generally called a smart camera
Smart camera
Although there are many definitions of smart cameras offered by the media, camera manufacturers and developers, still no binding definition exists. In a field where terms are often defined by their predominant usage, most material in this article is based on the term's most predominant usage...

 or smart sensor. When separated, the connection may be made to specialized intermediate hardware, a frame grabber
Frame grabber
A frame grabber is an electronic device that captures individual, digital still frames from an analog video signal or a digital video stream. It is usually employed as a component of a computer vision system, in which video frames are captured in digital form and then displayed, stored or...

 using either a standardized (Camera Link
Camera Link
Camera Link is a serial communication protocol designed for computer vision applications based on the National Semiconductor interface Channel-link. It was designed for the purpose of standardizing scientific and industrial video products including cameras, cables and frame grabbers...

) or custom interface. MV implementations also have used digital cameras capable of direct connections (without a framegrabber) to a computer via FireWire, USB or Gigabit Ethernet
Gigabit Ethernet
Gigabit Ethernet is a term describing various technologies for transmitting Ethernet frames at a rate of a gigabit per second , as defined by the IEEE 802.3-2008 standard. It came into use beginning in 1999, gradually supplanting Fast Ethernet in wired local networks where it performed...


Image processing

Techniques used in MV image processing include: thresholding
Thresholding (image processing)
Thresholding is the simplest method of image segmentation. From a grayscale image, thresholding can be used to create binary images Thresholding is the simplest method of image segmentation. From a grayscale image, thresholding can be used to create binary images Thresholding is the simplest method...

 (converting a grayscale
In photography and computing, a grayscale or greyscale digital image is an image in which the value of each pixel is a single sample, that is, it carries only intensity information...

 image to black and white, or using separation based on a grayscale value), segmentation
Segmentation (image processing)
In computer vision, segmentation refers to the process of partitioning a digital image into multiple segments . The goal of segmentation is to simplify and/or change the representation of an image into something that is more meaningful and easier to analyze...

, blob extraction, pattern recognition
Pattern recognition
In machine learning, pattern recognition is the assignment of some sort of output value to a given input value , according to some specific algorithm. An example of pattern recognition is classification, which attempts to assign each input value to one of a given set of classes...

, barcode
A barcode is an optical machine-readable representation of data, which shows data about the object to which it attaches. Originally barcodes represented data by varying the widths and spacings of parallel lines, and may be referred to as linear or 1 dimensional . Later they evolved into rectangles,...

 and data matrix
Data Matrix
A Data Matrix code is a two-dimensional matrix barcode consisting of black and white "cells" or modules arranged in either a square or rectangular pattern. The information to be encoded can be text or raw data. Usual data size is from a few bytes up to 1556 bytes. The length of the encoded data...

 code reading, optical character recognition
Optical character recognition
Optical character recognition, usually abbreviated to OCR, is the mechanical or electronic translation of scanned images of handwritten, typewritten or printed text into machine-encoded text. It is widely used to convert books and documents into electronic files, to computerize a record-keeping...

, gauging (measuring object dimensions), positioning, edge detection
Edge detection
Edge detection is a fundamental tool in image processing and computer vision, particularly in the areas of feature detection and feature extraction, which aim at identifying points in a digital image at which the image brightness changes sharply or, more formally, has discontinuities...

, color analysis, filtering (e.g. morphological filtering) and template matching
Template matching
Template matching is a technique in digital image processing for finding small parts of an image which match a template image. It can be used in manufacturing as a part of quality control, a way to navigate a mobile robot, or as a way to detect edges in images....

 (finding, matching, and/or counting specific patterns).


The most common outputs from machine vision systems are pass/fail decisions. These decisions may in turn trigger mechanisms that reject failed items or sound an alarm. Other common outputs include object position and orientation information from robot guidance systems. Additionally, output types include numerical measurement data, data read from codes and characters, displays of the process or results, stored images, alarms from automated space monitoring MV systems, and process control signals.


As recently as 2006, one industry consultant reported that MV represented a $1.5 billion market in North America. However, the editor-in-chief of an MV trade magazine asserted that "machine vision is not an industry per se" but rather "the integration of technologies and products that provide services or applications that benefit true industries such as automotive or consumer goods manufacturing, agriculture, and defense."

As of 2006, experts estimated that MV had been employed in less than 20% of the applications for which it is potentially useful.

See also

  • Computer Vision
    Computer vision
    Computer vision is a field that includes methods for acquiring, processing, analysing, and understanding images and, in general, high-dimensional data from the real world in order to produce numerical or symbolic information, e.g., in the forms of decisions...

  • Industrial robot
    Industrial robot
    An industrial robot is defined by ISO as an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes...

  • Machine vision glossary
    Machine Vision Glossary
    Machine vision is a branch of engineering that uses computer vision in the context of manufacturing. While the scope of MV is broad and a comprehensive definition is difficult to distil, a "generally accepted definition of machine vision is '.....

  • Morphological image processing
  • OpenCV
    OpenCV is a library of programming functions mainly aimed at real time computer vision, developed by Intel and now supported by Willow Garage. It is free for use under the open source BSD license. The library is cross-platform. It focuses mainly on real-time image processing...

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