Building A Better Serial Camera

If your next project does anything with cameras or machine vision, you’ll probably be looking at something like a USB webcam attached to an ARM board or a netbook. Sometimes, though, that setup blows will blow your budget – power or otherwise – out of the water. For small projects, you’re limited to small, serial-accessible cameras, and in that domain you really don’t have a lot of choices.

[Ibrahim] realized the cheapest serial cameras are about $35, and with basic image processing that cost skyrockets up to about $100. He set out to build his own alternative, and ended up with an awesome serial camera module that should only cost about $15 in quantity.

The module is built around an STM32F4 microcontroller running at 168 MHz. This micro has a DCMI port to which a OV9650 camera is attached. The resolution ends up being 1280×1024, far better than other serial cameras.

Already [Ibrahim] has the hardware working and a few demo apps. He has a real time color tracking demo (video below) up and running and a machine vision repo for his tiny camera. Now if we could only get a few of these boards on Tindie.

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Color Object Tracking With An 8-bit Microcontroller

[Craig] sent in a link to this project which manages to implement color tracking on an 8-bit microcontroller at 60 frames per second. That’s some pretty incredible performance, but we’re also not talking about using a hobby-grade microcontroller. The C8051F360 is an ARM microcontroller with 100 MIPS throughput and with a system clock that can operate at up to 100 MHz. You also must consider that the chip will be able to do nothing else while in the tracking mode. Even with those gotchase, it’s still pretty incredible.

The setup uses an Omnivision OV7720 camera module. It has its own 24 MHz clock, which is used as the clock signal on the microcontroller’s PLL to generate a 96 MHz system clock. The code, which is written in a combination of C and assembly language, pushes captured tracking data to a PC via a serial port connection. After the break you can watch a bare-bones demo video that illustrates what the camera sees and what data shows up on the PC.

If you had the system in hand, what would you use it for? Perhaps it’s a perfect addition to that paintball sentry gun at which you’ve been hacking away?

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