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(Image courtesy of Fritzchens Fritz, Flickr).

Designing Digital Eyes for the Internet of Things

Arm announced a new range of image signal processors that enable cameras, drones, and other embedded devices to discern sharper details in the world around them. The Mali-C52 and Mali-C32 are designed to process images in challenging lighting conditions, pulling out details in real time that could be overlooked by older generations of technology.

The company is trying to tap into the increasing demand for computer vision applications such as object detection, which require highly detailed output images. Arm, which is trying to shift its smartphone dominance into the Internet of Things, estimates that shipments of surveillance cameras are projected to increase 20 percent every year to over 500 million units by 2021. Image sensors are also being slapped onto everything from refrigerators to door locks.

Image signal processors, or ISPs, are responsible for processing raw images from cameras before projecting them onto displays or feeding them into computer vision applications. The Mali-C52 and Mali-C32 are capable of lifting detail to the surface of darkened images without touching the highlights. The processors are able to remove blurriness, manage color and enhance the image's dynamic range, preventing bleached out bright spots and dark shadows.

"Arm's vision to enable one trillion devices needs vision," said Thomas Ensergueix, senior director of the company's embedded and automotive unit. He said that more and more surveillance cameras will need "a sharper digital eye" to understand the world around them, ranging from license plate numbers to how many people have walked through a crosswalk. Without high quality images, computer vision could end up wrongly identifying what an image shows.

"This all starts with enabling the highest possible image quality," Ensergueix said. Arm's Mali-C52 can be configured for higher performance or smaller area. The company said that the Mali-C32 is designed for lower-power, lower-cost embedded devices, such as personal drones and portable cameras. Both are based on the the company's Iridix technology for handling difficult lighting conditions, which has shipped inside more than 2 billion electronic devices.

The company's latest chips are focused on bringing out details in the deepest shadows and tempering the brightest spots. Image signal processors have to process data so that it can be projected onto displays while also preparing the same data to be used in computer vision applications. Even though these outputs are processed differently, the Mali chips are capable of producing both from the same image, which improves image quality.

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