Back in the 90s, I used to haul around a $25,000 vision system in the trunk of my car to perform demonstrations of machine vision technology applications.

Today, there is more video power in my smartphone than in that entire system.

Just like all the technologies we use in manufacturing, vision systems and video have become more powerful and useful,most often leveraging consumer electronics or IT innovations. I visited a small chemical refinery that installed streaming video into its operator interface for a unique, but essential, personnel safety/security application. Located in a rural area of Texas, the refinery operators periodically opened the gates to allow railway cars into the facility or to let the filled cars leave. The open gates became a welcome invitation to the local coyote population. Of course, these guys were not wanted wandering around the facility. The video system watched for incursions and alerted personnel.

Not too long ago, the bandwidth required by that streaming video would have been too expensive or awkward to be economical. Now, it’s just another sensor.

Intelligent Video for Health and Safety

These Covid pandemic days have led to new use cases for video. AT&T identifies a few key examples on their video intelligence page:

  • Temperature monitoring
  • PPE monitoring
  • Ensuring social distancing
  • Counting people to maintain safe capacity

Infrared thermal imaging has progressed to the point that strategically placed thermal imaging cameras can monitor personnel for fevers—an outward sign of potential Covid infection. We can potentially stop the spread of the virus at the plant entrance.

Another Covid-related application involves contact tracing and social-distancing assurance. These applications require high bandwidth along with sophisticated analysis software—both now readily available. And, both technologies are poised for improvement. We will see 5G installations before long that will improve bandwidth, speed, and latency forvideo applications.

“Outside of these pandemic applications, process plants with hazardous areas have found video sensors to be a perfect solution to determining personnel safety during an incident. Rescue teams need to know who is in the area and where they are. Security teams can be alerted if someone wanders into a hazardous or restricted area.

Intelligent Video for Quality Control

Then we return to the applications I once tried to solve—product quality. While it is best practice to fix the process such that defects are not produced, vision inspection is another step in assuring products that fail to meet specification are not shipped to customers. Taking a feedback loop from inspection information provides a pathway to solving the process problem. As network bandwidth improves and video sensors become smaller, cheaper, faster, these video IoT solutions become more attractive.

5G is the Foundation

Apple released its latest iPhone (one of which is lying on my desk) with great hoopla about 5G. Apple pundits were originally less than enthusiastic about the 5G bandwidth. I have been advising them, along with clients and readers,about the tremendous value that will be unlocked by 5G. It may not be as apparent in an individual iPhone, but we will see a massive shift in business and manufacturing applications.

5G skeptics do exist, but most technologists are decidedly bullish on the possibilities. I think that manufacturers of many varieties will begin deploying the networks for one or two of the reasons that fit them, and then discover that they’ve received more benefit than they expected. Then managers and engineers will have difficulty remembering why there was any debate over moving from LTE to 5G.

As the AT&T Business team puts it in their “Agility Refined” white paper: 

5G is the next generation of wireless communications technology. In essence, 5G will put the network edge closer to users and devices. It uses mid-band frequencies and millimeter wave (mmWave) to help accomplish this. 

5G offers significantly larger spectrum allocations and enables exponentially increased data rates. It has a reduced range compared to today’s 4G frequencies—but the antennae needed for 5G are much smaller. This will allow for a dense network of small cells, enhancing the current user experience.

As you lay out your 5-year-and-beyond scenarios, this intelligent video powered by 5G will be technology to keep in the narrative.

This post was sponsored by AT&T Business, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent AT&T Business’s positions or strategies.

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