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FPGA-enabled vision system uses USB3 cams, runs Linux

Sep 30, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 2,518 views

NI unveiled a fanless, rugged vision computer that runs NI Linux on a quad-core Atom E3845, and offers an FPGA and support for 350MB/s USB3 Vision cameras.

National Instruments (NI) has delivered its NI Linux Real-Time OS on a variety of embedded industrial computers and control systems, including its recent CompactRIO 4-slot Performance Controller. Now, the company is applying NI Linux to machine vision with its new USB3 Vision compatible NI CVS-1459RT.


The USB3 Vision standard is based in part on the GigE Vision standard for gigabit Ethernet connected cameras, but instead uses USB 3.0-connected cameras. The cameras have a faster 350MB/s bandwidth, compared to 125MB/s for GigE cameras, although their cables only reach up to 5-10 meters compared to 100 meters for GigE. USB3 Vision cameras are also much faster than USB 2.0 cameras. The standard defines a machine vision interface for integrating the cameras with compatible cables and image processing libraries. (See farther below for details.)

Basler USB3 camera
(click to enlarge)

Like NI’s earlier, GigE compatible NI CVS-1457RT vision system, which runs on an RTOS, the NI CVS-1459RT is designed for synchronizing automation devices for camera and lighting triggering. It offers dual USB 3.0 ports that are compatible with dozens of available USB3 Vision cameras from multiple vendors. The ports can also be used for peripherals such as external storage for logging data. Advanced features include the ability to synchronize inspection results with industrial I/O and configure hardware-timed network triggers to trigger camera acquisition, says NI.

NI CVS-1459RT with optional Basler cameras (left); optional power supply
(click images to enlarge)

The NI CVS-1459RT is built around a quad-core, 1.91GHz Intel Atom E3845 from the latest 22nm generation of Atoms, which has a 2MB cache and a 10W TDP. The system also features a relatively low-end Xilinx Spartan-6 LX25 FPGA with 30K flip-flops, 15K LUTs, 38 DSP slices, and 52 RAM blocks.

The system is equipped with 4GB of DDR3L RAM and 2GB flash. A gigabit Ethernet port is provided, as well as two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, a serial port, and a VGA port. The computer also furnishes a number of TTL, differential, and isolated interfaces that support the FPGA.

The fanless 13.0 x 10.8 x 6.1cm vision computer runs on 12 to 24 VDC power, with 24 W maximum input, says NI. It also supplies 5 to 24 VDC isolated output. The system supports 0 to 55°C temperatures, and offers shock and vibration resistance.

The NI CVS-1459RT makes use of the LabVIEW reconfigurable I/O (RIO) architecture, combining the “open” LabVIEW programming environment with commercial off-the-shelf hardware, says NI. The platform lets engineers “combine powerful vision tools, I/O, industrial communication, data logging, and human machine interfaces (HMIs) into a single environment,” says the company. (The system also supports development with Vision Builder for Automated Inspection.)

NI’s optional LabVIEW FPGA software is available for customizing the FPGA-enabled I/O. The software help synchronize vision inspection results with other parts of industrial systems, such as encoders and proximity sensors.

The NI CVS-1459RT is available with options including a 44-pin CVS I/O interface with cable, a DIN rail kit, a power supply, and a variety of USB3 Vision cameras from Basler, ranging from $560 to $1,058. Computar lenses are available from $218 to $417. NI also offers board-level versions of the system for OEM applications.

Additional specifications listed by NI for the CVS-1459RT appear farther below.

USB3 Vision standard

The USB3 Vision is the first USB-related standard in the machine vision industry. The standard was announced back in 2011, and ratified by the Automated Imaging Association (AIA) in 2013.

USB3 Vision defines a stream and control protocol, based in part on the earlier GigE Vision and GenICam standards. The standard supports a USB 3.0 port’s 350MB/s bandwidth, and offers improved real-time response. Other benefits include the ability to more easily swap cameras in a system, as well as to use cameras from multiple vendors in a single complex vision system.

The standard covers four operations: device discovery, device control, event handling, and streaming data. Power and data are transmitted over the same cable, which can be up to five meters using passive cable or up to 10 meters using more active cables. The technology does not require a frame grabber.

A wide variety of USB3 Vision compatible cameras are already on the market, with many more on the way. In addition to Basler, vendors include Point Grey, Ximea, Matrix Vision (MyBlueFox3), and others.

“Now I can leverage the easy connectivity and high throughput of USB3 while taking advantage of new features for high-performance processing and HMI integration,” stated Robert Eastlund, VP of sales for Graftek Imaging Inc. “The NI CVS-1459RT enables high-resolution, high-speed industrial vision solutions.”

Summary of CVS-1459RT specs

Specifications listed for the NI CVS-1459RT include:

  • Processor — Intel Atom E3845 (4x x86 cores @ 1.91GHz); Xilinx Spartan-6 LX25 FPGA
  • Memory — 4GB DDR3L RAM (1333MHz); 2GB flash
  • Networking — gigabit Ethernet port
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x USB 3.0 ports (5Gbps) with USB 3 Vision support
    • 2x USB 2.0 ports (480Mbps)
    • VGA port (up to 1920 x 1200 at 60Hz)
    • Serial port
    • 8x TTL I/O channels
    • 2x differential I/O channels
    • 8x isolated I/O channels (current sinking)
    • 8x isolated output channels (current sourcing)
  • Power — 12 to 24 VDC; 24 W max. input; 5 to 24 VDC isolated output power
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 55°C
  • Shock resistance — 50g, 3ms half sine, 3 shocks per side; 30g, 11ms half sine, 3 shocks per side
  • Vibration resistance — 10 to 500Hz, 5 Grms (random); 10 to 500Hz, 5 g (swept sine)
  • Dimensions — 13.0 x 10.8 x 6.1cm (5.1 x 4.3 x 2.4 in.)
  • Weight — 811 g (1.79 lb)
  • Operating system — NI Linux Real-Time OS

Further information

The NI CVS-1459RT is available starting at $3,499 in single units. More information may be found at the NI CVS-1459RT product page.

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