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By Keith Reid
Preparing this month’s feature on Advanced Imaging’s 20th anniversary was no easy task. Roughly 200 issues of the magazine had to be read through – multiple times. And yet, if you happen to be both a technology and history geek, then the legwork was fun and interesting.
For some traditional industries, 20 years hardly represents any change. But where technology is concerned, the broad application of Moore’s Law compresses the number of advancements that might occur elsewhere over a hundred years into a fraction of that time. Technological capabilities in all of the core imaging areas increase rapidly as the years went by, while the cost of this technology steadily declined. Sophisticated imaging solutions that once cost hundreds of thousand dollars now cost a few thousand dollars, and can be found in a broad range of applications that would have been impossible or impractical 20 years ago.
There were some significant hardware developments and shifts in focus over the years, such as the rise of CMOS sensors as a competitor to CCD. However, many technologies were already established by 1986, and the coverage centered on the incremental advances in resolution, processing power, etc. Many of the real eye openers were the applications, that were driven as much by cheaper technology as they were by more advanced technology. Equipment that was once reserved for big-budget military or scientific applications was quickly applied to more mainstream business, industrial and even consumer areas.
Remote imaging has moved beyond its ominous Cold War beginnings to become a source of casual amusement for anybody with a desktop browser and a desire to see what their property looks like from outer space. Machine vision is pervasive in an ever increasing range of applications. Medical imaging has become digitized, multimedia and decentralized. Military imaging is advancing in leaps and bounds.
On a personal note, about the same time Advanced Imaging first mailed, I was becoming directly familiar with the early-generation light amplification and thermal in imaging technologies used by the U.S. Army. My recent time spent at the SPIE Defense and Security Symposium in Orlando, Fla. (April 18-20), was like a trip into another universe where these technologies are concerned, with form factor advancements and imaging performance far beyond the “neat stuff” I once used.