Image Processing

From oemagazine October, 2005
01 October 2005
By Winn Hardin

Before the advent of digital imaging, image processing was limited to scientific research, industrial inspection systems, and medical imaging - applications that could afford to convert the analog signals from the camera to computer-ready digital values.

Now digital cameras can be found almost anywhere, from light poles along roadways to cell phones in pockets. The portability of digital images and the ability to manipulate them on an exploding number of computing platforms has meshed with the global convergence of voice, video, and data communications to create a new environment where images are shared as easily as words.

But, of course, even digital images aren't perfect. Eyes need the red taken out. Photos need resizing. Memories must be cropped, processed, and communicated. In essence, digital imaging needs some help, and image processing is ready to lend a hand.

While the camera-phone and digital-still-camera markets are driving today's image processing revolution because of their sheer size, image processing and digital imagery are working hand in hand to grow both traditional scientific and industrial markets, as well as emerging consumer markets.

Coming off of a banner year, the industrial automated-optical-inspection market, also called the machine vision market, expects to see systems sales grow at 14% between 2004 and 2009, increasing from $1.4 billion to $2.7 billion by 2009. Machine vision systems make automatic measurements or decisions based on image processing algorithms applied to digital images. Sales of optical components for these systems, which include optics, lighting, cameras, and image-processing boards, are expected to increase at an 18% compound annual growth rate from 2004 to 2009, ballooning from $181 million to $417 million, according to statistics compiled by the Automated Imaging Association (Ann Arbor, MI). This is despite mediocre growth of 3% to 4% for global GDP during the same period.

Medical imaging is expected to grow at a slower rate than industrial and consumer imaging because of its maturity and high capital costs. Business Communications Company Inc. (BCC, Norwalk, CT) put the radiation-based monitoring equipment market—including ultrasound, fluoroscopy, computed tomography, and MRI—at $653 million in 2003; it is expected to reach $744 million by 2009, for an average annual growth rate of 1.6%.

At the other end of the imaging spectrum, the consumer's hunger for new portable imaging and communication devices will continue to drive the digital imaging market. The overall CCD and complementary-metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) sensor markets are expected to grow at an average annual rate of 30% per year through 2008, says Brian O'Rourke, senior analyst with In-Stat/MDR (Scottsdale, AZ). BCC puts the figure closer to 20.4% when software is added to the global market for digital image capture devices, with the combined markets growing from $105 billion in 2005 to $266 billion in 2010.

BCC analysts point to cell phone cameras as the biggest driver for the overall digital imaging market. Including digital image capture, storage, transfer, and display devices and technologies, BCC analysts valued the overall digital imaging market at more than $258 billion in 2004, and predict 18.1% annual growth between 2004 and 2010, passing $701 billion by 2010.

Image-processing modules are regularly sold today with CMOS sensors for cell phones, but the final advantage will come from companies willing to add unique features. "Players involved in digital photofinishing will need to confront ever-expanding opportunities for soft display and find ways to assert themselves in the mobile imaging environment," says Michelle Slaughter, director of digital photography trends at InfoTrends Research Group (Weymouth, MA).

According to In-Stat/MDR's O'Rourke, 2005 will mark the first year that CMOS sensors surpass CCD sales, and CMOS sensors will grow at roughly seven times the rate of CCD sensors between 2005 and 2009, creating even more opportunities for image processing in the growing digital imaging market. "Compared to CCDs, CMOS sensors offer a lower price, less power consumption, and the ability to integrate other functions on chip," O'Rourke says. "These advantages are significant in the camera phone market. CMOS sensors have also been prized in other markets that emphasize low cost, including toy cameras, web cameras, and dual-mode cameras." oe

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