Robots are the ‘it’ thing right now, computer vision is a hot topic, and microcontrollers have never been faster. These facts lead inexorably to the OpenMV, an embedded computer vision module that bills itself as the ‘Arduino of Machine Vision.’
The original OpenMV was an entry for the first Hackaday Prize, and since then the project has had a lot of success. There are tons of followers, plenty of users, and the project even had a successful Kickstarter. That last bit of info is fairly contentious — while the Kickstarter did meet the minimum funding level, there were a lot of problems bringing this very cool product to market. Issues with suppliers and community management were the biggest problems, but the team behind OpenMV eventually pulled it off.
At the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference, Kwabena Agyeman, one of the project leads for the OpenMV, told the story about bringing the OpenMV to market:
The OpenMV is a computer vision module that’s very inexpensive, and also very simple. There are really only two main parts on this module: a powerful microcontroller, and a camera module able to capture images in native JPEG format. The reason the OpenMV is inexpensive is because the camera module itself is inexpensive — it’s a legacy image sensor that’s about a decade old, but if you’re doing computer vision on a microcontroller you really don’t need a lot of megapixels.
Those old camera sensors came back to bite the OpenMV project. Apparently, when you’re using 10-year-old BGA parts, sometimes the balls go bad. The OpenMV project saw 80% of their image sensors fail during assembly, and was even featured as a Hackaday Fail Of The Week.
Trying to get to the bottom of this problem, Kwabena called the manufacturer of these image sensors and discovered the problem. These image sensors were never sold on the open market, and only to OEMs. The most probable way these image sensors found their way into the OpenMV supply chain is that they were originally intended for phones, but they were either desoldered and placed into modules, or just kept as unused stock to be unloaded on AliExpress.
What was the solution to this problem? Unfortunately, another manufacturing run with a new camera module at the cost of about $18k. This was a success, and the OpenMV community got their new, upgraded computer vision module.
Now that OpenMV cameras are out in the wild and a community is growing up around them, the creators of this computer vision module decided to do a new iteration of their hardware. The new OpenMV is using a faster processor, has more RAM, and has a lower price than the original.
At Hackaday, we’re intimately familiar with what can go wrong in a manufacturing run. We’ve already seen dozens of Kickstarters fail because of bad luck or poor planning. The troubles OpenMV had couldn’t be planned, and it would take either luck or a lot of work to dig themselves out of the problems they had. They did it, and the result is a thriving community built around the hardware they created. That’s awesome, and one of the best hardware success stories we heard at the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference.