UVC USB Camera Modules - Why They are Preferred in Most Embedded Camera Systems

In the world of camera interfaces, USB (Universal Serial Bus) has emerged as one of the most popular and widely adopted options.

Its widespread usage can be attributed to several key factors – such as easy integration, high bandwidth, and affordability – that make it a go-to choice for both professional and consumer cameras alike.

One of the standout advantages of USB cameras is their simplicity. With a USB interface, these cameras can be effortlessly plugged into almost any system or device without the need for additional drivers or complex setup procedures. This “plug-and-play” feature allows users to quickly and conveniently integrate USB cameras into their existing setups, saving time and eliminating compatibility concerns.

The convenience of USB cameras extends beyond consumer cameras. They are the first choice in many embedded vision systems even today. Since our topic of interest is the application of USB cameras in embedded vision, we will discuss USB cameras, USB camera modules, USB Video Class (UVC), and related topics from that point of view.

What is a UVC USB Camera?

A UVC (USB Video Class) USB camera is a type of USB camera that adheres to the UVC standard.   There are no additional drivers or software installations required in most machines and embedded systems while connecting a UVC-compliant USB camera.

There are different generations of USB standards. Though USB4 is the latest and offers the highest bandwidth (up to 40 Gbps), USB3 continues to be the most popular in embedded vision systems owing to their widespread adoption. USB3 cameras offer high data transfer rates and improved efficiency compared to earlier versions like USB2. Also, USB3 delivers more device power than USB2. This enhanced power delivery is beneficial for devices that require more power, such as high-resolution cameras or those with additional functionalities like pan, tilt, and zoom.

While modern embedded vision systems mostly use USB3 cameras since they offer high transfer rates, there could be some applications where USB3 is overkill and USB2 cameras are more suitable (because of lower cost). Examples of such applications include vending kiosks, video conferencing systems, digital signage, biometric devices, and assistive devices.

Difference Between USB Camera and USB Camera Module

The main difference between a USB camera and a USB camera module lies in their application and composition.

In the consumer world, a USB camera typically refers to an end-user camera, such as a webcam. These cameras are ready-to-use devices with an integrated USB interface. A USB camera comes with all the components, including a lens, image sensor, and a mechanical enclosure, and is designed for direct use by consumers without the need for additional hardware or integration.

On the other hand, in the embedded camera world, the terms “USB camera” and “USB camera module” are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a technical distinction. A USB camera, in this context, refers to a complete camera system that includes the lens, sensor array, baseboard, adaptor board, and sometimes an Image Signal Processor (ISP) and enclosure. It is a fully integrated solution that can be directly connected to an embedded vision device or system.

A USB camera module, in the embedded context, specifically refers to the camera component that consists of the sensor, baseboard, and lens mount. It may not include additional elements like an adapter board, lens, or ISP. The module serves as a building block that can be integrated into various embedded vision devices or applications, such as robots or industrial systems, with the ability to use the lens of your choice or an external ISP.

So, when people mention a USB camera in the embedded world, they are referring to a complete camera system with all the necessary components. When they mention a USB camera module, they are referring to the camera component alone. However, as mentioned earlier, these terms are most often used interchangeably.

Why are UVC USB Cameras Preferred in Most Embedded Vision Applications?

USB cameras provide a reliable and versatile solution for capturing and processing visual data in embedded vision systems. In addition to universal compatibility reasons, other reasons that USB cameras are highly preferred include:

  1. Prototyping and MVP Development: USB cameras are commonly used by engineers, even those working with platforms like NVIDIA or NXP, during the development of prototypes or Minimum Viable Products (MVPs). USB cameras provide a convenient and cost-effective solution for early-stage development and testing, allowing engineers to quickly iterate and validate their vision systems’ functionality.

  2. High Bandwidth Capability: USB cameras, especially those utilizing USB 3.0 standards, offer a maximum theoretical bandwidth of up to 5 Gbps (USB 3.1 and 3.2 standards offer even higher bandwidths). This high bandwidth allows for the transmission of large amounts of data, enabling high-resolution video capture, faster frame rates, and real-time image processing. It provides the necessary throughput for demanding embedded vision applications including those using a multi-camera setup.

  3. Continued Usage in Modern Devices: While there is a growing trend towards ARM-based platforms like NVIDIA Jetson, many modern devices, including robots and autonomous vehicles, still rely on USB cameras. USB cameras offer a reliable and established interface that is widely supported by existing systems and software frameworks. This makes them a practical choice for many robotic applications, particularly for those devices that have not fully transitioned to ARM-based platforms.

Applications of USB Cameras in Embedded Vision

USB cameras find applications in various embedded vision devices. Their versatility, ease of integration, and compatibility make them a popular choice for capturing and processing visual data. Here are some popular use cases where USB cameras are commonly employed:

  1. Industrial handheld scanners: USB cameras are utilized in industrial handheld scanners for capturing images, barcodes, or QR codes. Use cases include logistics, warehousing, inventory management, and package tracking systems.

  2. Video conferencing systems: USB cameras play a crucial role in video conferencing systems, enabling high-quality video capture for remote meetings, webinars, and virtual collaboration. They often come with features such as facial detection and recognition to identify the person who is speaking to pan, tilt, and zoom the camera accordingly.

3. Telemedicine: In telemedicine applications, USB cameras are used to capture high-resolution images or video footage for remote medical consultations, diagnostic purposes, or patient monitoring. They are employed in devices such as telemedicine carts or telepresence robots.

4. Document cameras: USB cameras are integrated into document cameras or visual presenters used in classrooms, offices, or conference rooms. These cameras capture images or live videos of documents, objects, or whiteboards, which can be projected or shared in real-time.

5. Microscopes: USB cameras are frequently integrated into microscopes, enabling researchers, scientists, or medical professionals to capture and analyze microscopic images. These cameras provide a convenient way to digitally record and study samples.

6. Skin scanning devices: USB cameras find applications in skin scanning devices used in dermatology and cosmetics. These cameras capture high-resolution images of the skin for identifying lesions, analyzing texture & moisture levels, and even diagnosing cancer.

7. Wound measurement devices: USB cameras are employed in wound measurement systems for capturing images of wounds, ulcers, or skin conditions. These images are then analyzed to assess wound healing progress or monitor treatment effectiveness.

TechNexion USB3 Type-C UVC Compliant Cameras

Introducing TechNexion USB3 Type-C UVC Compliant Cameras – the perfect solution for your embedded vision project. Designed from the ground up with your needs in mind, these cameras offer exceptional performance and flexibility.

Choose between rolling or global shutter options to capture precise and accurate images in any application. With a range of resolutions from 1MP to 13MP, you can select the perfect camera for your specific requirements.

TechNexion USB3 Type-C UVC Compliant Cameras are available with either an M12 (S) mount or a C-mount, ensuring compatibility with a wide range of lenses for optimal image quality. Whether you need a rugged solution enclosed in aluminum or a compact bare PCB option, we have you covered.

One of the standout features of these cameras is their seamless integration into your system. With driverless functionality, they work effortlessly with Linux or Windows 10/11 operating systems, saving you time and effort during the setup process.

Additionally, we offer the VizionViewer™ SDK, providing you with a comprehensive software development kit to unleash the full potential of the camera you choose from our suite. Benefit from advanced features, customization options, and streamlined integration empowering you to create innovative embedded vision applications.

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