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Image processing tech runs Linux, targets UAV apps

Aug 6, 2013 — by Eric Brown 1,577 views

RFEL has unveiled board-level versions of its HALO video processing technology, which runs Linux on a Xylinx Zynq ARM+FPGA system-on-chip. Previously introduced as a ruggedized subsystem aimed at military intelligence applications, such as UAVs, the new HALO boards provide embeddable versions of RFEL’s sophisticated image stabilization and fusion engines, which can form composite images by merging visible and IR data.

In April, UK-based RFEL introduced its HALO technology in the form of a rugged subsystem, but did not publicly reveal technology details, including the device’s Linux foundation, until its recent announcement of the board-level computer-on-module (COM) and XMC format products. The new boards are designed for easier integration into new and existing Unmanned Vehicle Systems (UAVs), better known as drones.

RFEL’s HALO subsystem and COM
(click images to enlarge)


All three products, which begin shipping in October, are designed for low power, real-time video processing for image-based surveillance in defense and security, as well as industrial applications, says the company. Specific applications are said to include long range weapons targeting, UAV based surveillance, vehicle driving aids, and monitoring of unauthorized incursions into restricted areas.


HALO addresses the problem of information overload from growing inputs of image data needed to create a Common Operating Picture (COP) based on actionable intelligence, says RFEL. Just as digital cameras make it easy to take far more vacation photos than one has time to sort through, the rising tide of high resolution video surveillance data often goes unseen. In the U.S. military alone, by 2015 an estimated 100,000 personnel will be needed to analyze all of the military video.

HALO’s main contribution here is to limit the amount of time — both operator and computer time — spent trying to analyze poor imaging data. Its real-time video processing technology conditions incoming data and adjusts poor raw sensor imagery under challenging lighting or atmospheric conditions.

For example, cameras mounted on moving vehicles often suffer from shake and vibration, making it challenging for both humans and machine automated video processing systems to analyze. In addition, dual-camera devices that simultaneously record infra-red and visible light — especially useful in dusk, dawn, fog, and other difficult imaging conditions — require expensive, power-hungry processing units that can take time to integrate the data into a coherent image.

To address these issues, HALO provides real-time image enhancement and integration, while significantly reducing the data load on the network, says RFEL. The HALO image stabilizer processes and extracts useful image information from shaky images. Unlike commonly used “feature tracking” systems, HALO can correct scenes with poorly defined features or extreme movements, says RFEL. The technology is said to handle frame-to-frame translations as large as 40 pixels (in both x and y) and frame-to-frame rotations of up to 5 degrees.

Composite image formed by fusing visible and IR data
(click image to enlarge)


HALO’s image fusion technology, meanwhile, goes beyond simply averaging image data or using overlays, says RFEL. Instead, it forms a composite image based on selecting the best features from both IR and visible images on a per pixel basis. It blocks visible or IR data if it does not contribute to a particular portion of image, and intelligently combines the data when both sensors contribute. The process potentially halves retained image data, thereby reducing processing and communications bandwidth, as well as storage requirements, claims the company.

RFEL’s HALO architecture
(click image to enlarge)


Video features of HALO are said to include:

  • Built-in IP-blocks include video input switch, test pattern generator, video output switch, software frame grab, digital zoom, and digital overlay
  • Intelligent fusion of multi-modal imagery, such as from a visible and IR sensor
  • Image stabilization, even when the platform is subject to severe vibration, and when imagery is sparse in features or of low contrast
  • Contrast enhancement to maintain high performance operation in marginal visible and IR lighting conditions
  • Noise reduction for optimizing operation in low ambient light and for ensuring robust image fusion
  • Lens distortion correction and support for compression standards
  • Video inputs available include any two of SD/HD-SDI, PAL/NTSC, Gigabit Ethernet, CamerLink
  • Video outputs available include any two of SD/HD-SDI, PAL/NTSC, Gigabit Ethernet, CamerLink, HDMI
  • Supported input and output video resolutions range up to 1080p (full HD), at up to 60Hz

HALO builds on the processing technology found on the COM, or as RFEL refers to it, SOM (system-on-module), which incorporates the Xilinx Zynq-7020 system-on-chip. The increasingly popular Zynq combines dual ARM Cortex-A9 cores, typically clocked from 667MHz to 800MHz, along with FPGA circuitry — with two SoC subsystems tightly linked by an AXI4 interconnect and controlled via Linux.

HALO’s Linux development environment, supported with documented APIs and drivers, makes it easier for clients to integrate their own existing client firmware and software, including FPGA-targeted solutions, says RFEL. Its Linux-based “IQFabric” SoC framework lets users build upon HALO’s video post-processing functions, such as automated target tracking, feature identification, or change detection.

As mentioned above, RHEL’s HALO technology is offered in three form factors: COM, XMC, and finished subsystem:

  • HALO SOM — The 90 x 75mm (3.6 x 3 in.) COM version incorporates a Xilinx Zynq-7020 equipped with 1GB of shared ARM/FPGA memory and 256MB FPGA-only memory. Other features include a gigabit Ethernet controller, a microSD slot, and 4×10 LVDS connectivity (optionally 4×20 single ended). The COM is further equipped with a 3D gyroscope, a SHA-1 encryption engine, and a PSU and temperature monitor. A high-density digital connector links directly into sensor housings, says RFEL. The HALO module runs on 5V DC power, and supports up to industrial (-25 to +70°C) air-cooled temperature ranges. It requires a host carrier board to provide external video interfacing, or other adapter chipsets, and can be customized with specific connector requirements.
  • HALO XMC board — The PCI Express-based XMC form factor carrier board offers direct connections to standard video interfaces and high throughput host control interfaces. The board supplies a PCI Express interface with either four or eight lanes, and provides HD-SDI connectors. Few other specifics were offered on ports and interfaces, but the board is said to be customizable to specified interface requirements, and is available in a variety of ruggedness levels, including industrial operating temperatures. An “Aura” version is said to offer SFP (small form-factor pluggable) connectors The XMC, or “Switched Mezzanine Card” standard features a high-speed serial fabric interconnect based on the Vita 42.3 standard for high-performance PCI communications.
  • HALO Subsystem — Announced in April, this field computer subsystem is qualified for military environmental standards and offers direct connections to standard video interfaces and host control interfaces, says RFEL. All connectors are qualified to MIL-DTL-38999 III series standards. Customer-specified connector technologies can be incorporated, including commercial or industrial standard connectors. The HALO subsystem offers up to three HD inputs and two HD outputs, and supports a variety of I/O standards, including gigabit Ethernet, serial, CameraLink, or Analog/CCTV. The device supports real-time and low-latency video processing, up to 60Hz full frame and 150Hz for region of interest. The 137 x 105 x 80mm subsystem weighs less than 400g. It can run on 3 to 10 Watts on 4.7 to 27V DC power, and supports operating temperatures of -47 to 55°C, claims the company.

RFEL is taking orders now for the HALO COM, XMC, and subsystem. The latter will begin shipping in autumn 2013. The COM will begin shipping in October 2013, and the XMC board in spring 2014. The HALO development kit will be available in December 2013.

The HALO products will be shown at stand 2042 at AUVSI 2013, held in Washington DC, Aug. 12-15.  More information on the subsystem may be found at the HALO product page.

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