www.vision-systems.com VISION SYSTEMS DESIGN September 2015 3
Andy Wilson, EDI TOR IN CHIEF
ANDY W@PENN WELL.COM
Only Smarties have
Some months ago, my brother Dave was invited to a children’s birthday party.
After arriving at his friend’s house, he watched as every child was presented with
a balloon, marked, of course, with the words “Happy Birthday.”
Every child was thrilled except for one tearful soul who had inadvertently
released their present. What was to be done to recover the helium-filled inflatable that now
resided on the ceiling of the room? My brother suggested that by climbing a ladder, it could easily
be recovered. Unfortunately, the owners of the house did not own one. Luckily, there are people
a lot smarter than my brother that think more laterally than vertically.
In England, small colored sugar-coated chocolate confectionery known as “Smarties” are
packaged in a small, round cardboard tube. Since many of these had been purchased for the
party, the host, with a stroke of genius, decided to use one such package to solve the problem.
After pouring the candy from the carton, some sticky tape was wrapped around the package
and launched in the direction of the wayward balloon. After a few attempts, the Smarties carton
attached to the balloon with the effect that the added weight was enough to lower the balloon
into the hands of one very grateful five-year-old. Tears were replaced with cheers.
Such out-of-the-box (or wrap-around-the-carton) thinking is also practiced by many systems
integrators faced with seemingly otherwise intractable problems. By borrowing from established
ideas and products, these developers create elegant systems that are more effective than those
built using standard off-the-shelf components.
In June 2014, for example, Joseph Gochar, President of Logical Systems showed how his company had developed an air conveyor separator used to control the pace at which plastic caps were
presented to a vision system (see “Vision system inspects bottle caps at high speed,” Vision Systems Design, June 2014; http://bit.ly/1ScGw91). A different positioning problem was faced by
Edwin Tan, Robotic System Engineer with Durabotics (see “Robot vision automates connector
assembly,” pp. 21-25, this issue). Faced with positioning tiny pins into a connector housing, Tan
needed to develop a system that allowed a robot to pick a part, orient it and position it correctly
while removing any excess residue that might be present on the pin.
“I had recently taken up archery as a hobby and realized that the action I was trying to perform
perfectly matched the function of a common arrow rest called a whisker biscuit,” says Tan. This
device incorporates synthetic bristles and a hole in the center that is used to encircle and hold
an arrow shaft in alignment while allowing feathers to pass through. By passing the pin through
the whisker biscuit, the desired effect was achieved.
Like many elegant application, ideas such as these seem obvious once someone else has
thought of them. However to realize them takes more than a degree in engineering. It requires
talent in the abstract - a course that I’m afraid is not generally taught in universities.
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