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DIY hardware - graphic programming with VisualApplets

13 Sep 2013

VisualApplets by Silicon Software allows the programming of FPGAs for use in imaging applications via a graphic user interface. The 2. version of the tool was presented recently. Managing Director Dr. Klaus-Henning Noffz discusses the background to this interesting technology, the significance of VisualApplets Competence Centres (VACC) and VisualApplets Design Centres (VADC) as well as the cooperation with STEMMER IMAGING.

The STEMMER IMAGING headquarters in Germany were recently appointed a VADC, the subsidiary in the UK as a VACC. What do these appointments imply from your point of view and what is the general purpose behind these categories?
Dr. Klaus-Henning Noffz: with VACC and VADC we have introduced a two-tier certification system for VisualApplets. This is a quality statement to help the users of VisualApplets to find a suitable and competent partner for their VisualApplets projects. A VisualApplets Competence Centre can conduct training and provide in-depth consultation. Even if programming cannot be implemented directly by our VACC partner companies, the certification of trained employees allows them to understand the project requirements and to make recommendations vis-a-vis a VADC partner or direct referral to Silicon Software. This quickly provides customers with qualified responses on the opportunities and implementation of complete or partial projects.

Our partner companies who have achieved VisualApplets Design Centre certification go one step further: they are able to solve image processing requirements via FPGA programming with VisualApplets themselves. This helps us to establish an international, decentralised competence network which allows real-time implementation on FPGAs.

How many partners hold this certification?
Dr. Noffz: the interest of our partners in a qualified recommendation of VisualApplets to their customers has, admittedly, taken us by surprise. In the past two years we have certified close to 92% of our partner companies as VACCs. This is a tremendous success. However, STEMMER IMAGING is first partner company to have successfully achieved the second level, VADC. This has given us a very strong presence in European countries to realise VisualApplets projects. We hope to expand the partner network with further potential partners, especially from Asia and Israel.

What are the benefits for VisualApplets users when cooperating with your VACC/VADC partners?
Dr. Noffz: there are a number of approaches for the implementation of projects. There are VisualApplets users who wish to retain control of their entire project and need to perform programming themselves. These customers often require introductory training or application-specific coaching. Many customers want to skip the first step and modify a solution or develop it further. They commission programming and are coached, for example, on how to implement adaptations for new cameras or sophisticated algorithms themselves. These customers require a VDAC partner to realise VisualApplets applications.

A customer can be assured that our VACC and VADC partners have state-of-the- art knowledge of the technology and can guarantee competent advice and timely implementation. In addition, decentralised, competent support may also prove useful in the local language. As the duration of certification is limited, our partners undergo training on a regular basis.

How do you cooperate with your VACC and VADC partners?
Dr. Noffz: next to training on site, our partners are trained via tele-conferences on specific topics or application foci, for example, 3D measurement. And our partners are never left standing alone: as the manufacturer of VisualApplets we always provide tips on optimisation and can provide assistance quickly for second level support or application problems.

We have prepared a so-called technical short description (TSD) which queries project-relevant criteria and values in brief form. This description proves very useful for the high demands of real-time conditions or algorithmic processing during the communication between customers and partners, and, of course, with us.

What are the main features of VisualApplets?
Dr. Noffz: Version 2.0 of VisualApplets was launched in May 2013. Operation has been made even simpler with this version and we were able to design error detection and automatic rectification even more effectively. In addition, the scope of functions both for the process imaging libraries and simulation as well as the analysis tools has been extended considerably. This not only helps our customers, but also our partners who can in turn implement customer projects safely and quickly.

For which fields of application are VisualApplets particularly suited?
Dr. Noffz: VisualApplets contains so-called basic operators and complex operators. The basic operators enable simple visual programming and the creation of own operators, compiling own libraries and programming of applications. There are hardly any dependencies with regard to our own libraries offered.

The complex operators enable the implementation of applications via simple programming designs. For example, an application for object segmentation and classification only requires a single operator for a blob analysis to fulfill the task in real-time.

In order to best support users with their developments, we include over 60 design examples from different areas. Partial solutions for virtually all applications are available, ranging from adaptive binarisation via a variety of filter operations, colour processing, pattern matching as well as compressions. A main reason for the use of VisualApplets is the programming option of the triggers and digital control signals.

Can you give us some examples where VA has already been employed with success?
Dr. Noffz: quoting the most typical examples of the numerous applications is somewhat difficult. We had an interesting experience in Asia with an application for self-controlling welding robots, as this clearly displayed the benefits of real-time processing without CPU effect. In this example we also managed to exceed the time requirements for processing by a factor of 5. We also had a completely different experience with manufacturers of cameras who employed VisualApplets for sorting sensor data in the development phase. The programming designs are not very elaborate and can be implemented quickly. This is an excellent example for time-to-market.

However, two examples were very important for us, and these were presented at the Vision trade fairs 2011 and 1012 by Stemmer Imaging. In the first demonstration, free-falling, coloured tennis balls were recognised and sorted, in the second a ball was balanced real-time. Both these interested exhibition demonstrations showed us that our partners are able to implement highly demanding applications with VisualApplets without difficulty and are already solution partners for our customers.

Which projects have already been realised with VADC partners?
Dr. Noffz: often it is the small additional functions which make the difference to using VisualApplets. STEMMER IMAGING has already made many of these adaptations for customers. Examples of such individual system configurations include adaptation of the latest camera to a project, individual timing of peripheral controls, the synchronisation of cameras, or stitching, i.e. seamless sequencing of camera images. The use of a high-pass or low-pass filter, edge detection or noise suppression are typical examples for additional functions which can be programmed with VisualApplets without any load on the CPU, ensuring high data rates and providing considerable added value.

What are the requirements necessary for users to work with VisualApplets?
Dr. Noffz: VisualApplets is directed at software programmers. Time and time again, we have seen that hardware programmers can develop designs directly without training and are able to realise high performance programmes with VisualApplets. It is even possible for newcomers to adapt or create new designs after a short period of time. Of course, experience in imaging is useful, but not essential. As analytical tools and automatisms have been integrated into VisualApplets and as a high level simulation is also available, the user can concentrate on his imaging problem and forget that he is dealing with hardware programming. The only requirement that remains for the user is enjoying imaging.

Silicon Software Visual Applets

Graphical oriented tool for easy FPGA programming

Silicon Software

Mannheim, Germany

Silicon Software GmbH was founded in 1997 as a product development and manufacturing company with focus on the automation and machine vision markets. Headquarters are located in Mannheim, Germany where Silicon Software develops and produces off-the-shelf and customised OEM hardware and software solutions.