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Operating systems

Most PC based vision systems use the Microsoft Windows operating system. The wide range of develop ment tools, many developers and an interface that is familiar to a large user base, indicates that it is an easy platform to use.

Windows

One of the drawbacks of the platform, however, is also this familiarity, so users of a machine vision system on Windows can install additional software and make changes to settings. Standard Windows is also vulnerable to corruption if its not shut down correctly, meaning uninterruptable power supplies should be used if there is a risk of regular power loss.

Windows has traditionally been a desktop and server operating system requiring significant PC resources. With Windows 10 we have seen a reduction in the minimum hardware requirements and the embedded version of the operating system has become easier to configure, to create small footprint devices. With the newest version of Windows 10, IoT (Internet of Things) delivers the smallest foot print for very embedded applications

IoT (Internet of Things) is the new name of the embedded group at Microsoft, emphasizing Microsoft's one-window strategy: a Windows for all, from the smallest device that collects information or input to the server that processes the data. This strategy influenced naming for the new Microsoft Embedded products.

Embedding Windows for industrial use

Windows IoT Enterprise is a special version of Windows 10 that allows OEMs to create custom builds by removing unwanted parts and adding special features that make the operating system robust for use in industry with controlled functionality. Prior to Windows 10 it was called Windows Embedded and while some capabilities have changed the fundamental capabilities remain the same. All PCs from STEMMER IMAGING are available with Windows IoT or Windows 7 Embedded along with a number of utilities to ease the ability to clone the disk image and configure the system to overcome the limitations of the standard version of the operating system. Our Windows IoT disk image is based on the full version of Windows with the following additional features

Disk write filters

This allows parts of the disk to be locked to read-only such that any settings that are changed during use are lost at reboot. A common setting is the operating system and install files are locked and only the application settings, log files and image storage areas being open for write access. This solved two issues: firstly on power loss the system is not at risk of disk corruption and secondly general users cannot tamper with the system.

Keyboard filter

Windows has a number of keystrokes such as Ctrl/Alt/Del to access utilities and launch applications. By filtering out these commands a user is unable to access these and hence the computer need not appear as Windows.

Logo on boot

This option removed the Windows logo on boot up and can be replaced with a custom logo.

Hiding the Windows menu

With Windows Embedded the shell programme that launches the menu system can be replaced so the Windows start menu is disabled and replaced with, for example, the vision application. With the above configured the Windows PC no longer looks or behaves like a standard PC and becomes a dedicated vision system and is protected against tampering and unexpected power loss. STEMMER IMAGING's Windows Embedded integration service can implement this for you to your specifications.

Advanced configuration

As standard we install all operating system components as this ensures compatibility with the majority of Windows applications. With Windows Embedded it is possible to remove elements of the operating system to further improve performance and reduce the memory, disk and processor resources needed to run. Our integration team can build an image to meet your requirements on request.

STEMMER IMAGING EMBEDDED UTILITY

To simplify the configuration and maintenance of the above features STEMMER IMAGING can provide a utility to provide the maximum protection and flexibility. This is currently available for Windows Embedded 7, and at the time of this writing a version for the newer Windows IoT Enterprise is in development. The functionality of this utility is described below. The Windows shell which is launched on start up is replaced by a utility that runs in the background. This utility can launch a number of programmes on start up such as the vision system application. To configure this utility a key sequence can be entered or a command can be called from the vision system application. Users are presented with a PIN code to protect access. On entering the code a menu as shown below is launched which allows the above features to be enabled and disabled hence switching the PC from behaving like a standard PC and the locked down custom version. This utility can be installed and configured on our Windows Embedded PC's on request. The exact functionality of the utility differs between Windows 7 Embedded and the newer Windows IoT Enterprise operating system however it achieves the same goal.

Linux

Linux, like a number of operating systems such as Mac OS is based on UNIX. Initially an open source version is developed and supported by the community. To create stability and provide support to a wider user base a number of commercial distributions have become available such as Debian, Ubuntu and Android the popular smart phone operating system.

When using open source versions the key advantage is the open source nature and no license costs. The disadvantages include fewer developers familiar with Linux and the open source nature implies that care has to be taken to ensure correct version control. Our experience in Linux is that it is generally adopted in machine vision applications where the device is not a PC such as an ARM based smart camera, or where the quantities are high and price pressure is significant.

Migrating between Windows and Linux

In recent years there have been a number of cross platform tools to enable applications to migrate between Windows and Linux. The main challenge has been to have a common user interface. Environments such as QT provides a user interface that runs on both windows and Linux and even between Intel and ARM processors. If application developers are considering migrating solutions away from a windows PC a good start is to migrate to an platform independent user interface.

Migrating to embedded ARM platforms

As very small low power processors have become more powerful driven by the mobile phone revolution it is now possible to develop embedded vision systems using these processors. Embedded vision has become a hot discussion topic in recent years and many of the development tools and image processing libraries, including our own Common Vision Blox are now ported to the ARM processor platform. While the PC platform remains the most flexible and powerful if the application is high volume along with a demand for low power, compact and low cost ARM is a good option to consider. To get started there are a number of ready to go ARM based platforms such as the Odriod, NXP and NVidia TX series. STEMMER IMAGING can provide development advice and installation images of CVB on these devices to accelerate the development of such applications