Guest contributor: Jack Moermond, Balluff
In the past, color sensors emitted light using red, green and blue LEDs. The sensors were then able to distinguish colors using the RGB components of the reflected light back to the sensor’s receiver. As technology has progressed true color sensors have been developed that not only can compare colors but measure them more accurately than the human eye.
Color sensors are based on diffuse technology and can be compared to a fixed focus or convergent sensor because of the focused light spot. Unlike color contrast sensors that only detect the difference between two colors based on brightness, color sensors can detect a wide range of colors.
True color sensors typically use white LEDs which allow for a greater color spectrum evaluation. Combine this with the CIELAB color system which is one of the most versatile color systems and the result is a color sensor that equals or exceeds the human eye. The CIELAB color system is a three-dimensional independent infinite representation of colors. The L component for lightness and a and b components for color are predefined absolute values. Lightness varies from black (0) to the brightest white (100). Color channel a varies from green negative 100 to red positive 100. Color channel b varies from blue negative 100 to yellow positive 100 with gray values at a=0 and b=0.
Due to the technology, color sensors can check only a small spot of color but can check this spot amazingly fast – up to 1.5 kHz in case of the Balluff’s fiber optic BFS 33M which also has a range of 400mm. Unlike a color sensor camera, which will focus on the object’s surface pattern and may cause false readings the true color sensor will ignore patterns thus providing more accurate color detection. In addition the true color sensor will have more outputs than the color camera.
Smart color cameras are working with RGB but could work also with HSV color models. They could be used to check larger areas for the same color or color codes on a part, but have slower update rate of 50 Hz. Special cameras for faster applications are available in the market but at higher costs. It is important that the light source for the smart color cameras be a white light with a standardized white balance, and that this light must kept constant for all checks to avoid errors.
The sophistication on the front end of the color sensor can be much more advanced and still remain a cost effective option for industrial use due to the fact that a camera requires a much larger processing system. The more sophisticated the sensors are in the camera the more robust the processor must be in order to process or map the data into an image.
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