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I'm currently embarking upon a project that will allow me to attach a device onto a blimp for fire detection purposes. This device will have on it three major components, an image processing device, a communication link and GPS. Ultimately what I want to do is process images to detect if there is a fire, if there is one I want to send a flag + gps coordinates to the communication chip to be transmitted.

I am having trouble finding a board ready for image processing, i.e. it comes bundled with a camera, or a camera can be interfaced easily. I want to be able to process images on the fly to detect whether there is a fire or not. I have found this http://bit.ly/5N3X7y board, and a corresponding daughter card (with camera), but the problem is that it there are no output links besides the analog headphone/line out, which makes interfacing with my communication device difficult.

I'm also trying to find a RF transceiver that will work at distances of about 9-15Km, but the best I've found so far is this http://bit.ly/5Fdrxq. Speed is not a great issue as I'm only sending a few bytes of data.

Can anyone give me some advice regarding hardware, and any potential pitfalls/problems that you forsee (that I have not).

Your help is greatly appreciated  :)

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I would recommend a micro PC motherboard and a high resolution usb camera. You can do all your software development on a very high level language like C# under Windows embedded. Regarding RX/TX, I am sure there are long range modules that can plug say in your serial port. Same for GPS modules.

How does that sound? Do you prefer a more DIY approach? What were the issues you were thinking of?

That is a great idea btw, congratulations! Now you need to find a way to get those firemen to move their...


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Hey Alex,

Thanks for your post. The problems with getting a micro PC motherboard are two fold: The weight of the board + peripherals and the supply of power.

I'm attempting a more DIY for two reasons, one its a university project, and two it will allow using bare essentials to conserver on power and weight because blimps are costly little buggers. Any ideas of manufacturers of DSP boards, or DSP capable boards (maybe FPGAs)?

Regarding the transceivers, someone recommended this, http://bit.ly/5ZjIHv, which seems to be good when matched with a proper antenna. I've also already found a GPS chip that gives lat, long, time, alt, heading/direction.

As for the issues I anticipate, they include more details of the connections and the possible use of PICs / arduinos to tie all the components together, and initialize other components.

PS: I can attach the RX to a electric shocker on the fireman's ***, maybe that'll get them going :P


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There are really tiny PCs, smaller and lighter than the board in your link. Anyway, if its for an academic exercise then you should go with something more DIY. There is an intermediate solution, embedded development platforms. You can try googling that.

I have asked an ex-lecturer of mine, he is a Professor of DSP in the uni of Manchester UK.
He really knows his subject and he should be able to reccommend a better board than I would.


I will post his reply here once I get it.

From experience I would suggest not to get too DIY with hardware and to focus on what I think will be the main focus of your application, image processing.

So for RX/TX I would go with a ready module and interface that to the rest of the system.
For example, http://www.radiocrafts.com
Maybe these specific modules don't offer such long range, but you should look for a such level of integration.


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Thanks for your help again, I'm really benefiting from it :)

I didn't divulge fully the purpose of the project. The hardware is the bigger part of the project as the it is meant to work for different image processing algorithms, detecting various things (fire, people, license plates etc). So having "solid" working hardware is more important then the algorithm to detect the fire (which there is already much research on).

Your embedded development platforms key word seems to hit the spot, I found the website http://www.sundance.com which seem to offer something I'm looking for.

Things are starting to look up (for the time being)

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Good, glad you are getting your head around this.

These platforms are very powerful not very different than a normal PC or laptop.

Anyway, a friend of mine, enthusiastic about DSP, suggested Texas Instruments as a leader in DSP platforms. Have a look at their DSP portfolio.

FPGAs. Unless you have a very good reason to change your processor architecture in the future, dont use them. The development cycle is overwhelming even if you use C-to-hardware compilers, say in Altium Designer.

Operating systems. If you use the DSP processor only as a workhorse you might not need an OS on the DSP itself,  you can have say a small ARM-based system which runs the OS and controls the I/O.

Make sure you can run Duke Nukem on your platform. Great added value while the blimp is grounded. I also see how this can also be useful to spy on ones girlfriend/boyfriend.

Expert advise will come in early next week, I think.


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I also see how this can also be useful to spy on ones girlfriend/boyfriend.

You know, because a blimp floating in the sky isn't unusual ;D. Then again if everyone has one....

I'm looking at all these processor boards, but realized there's one thing I don't know. What type of I/O connectors should I be looking for?

Since it seems I have to get a camera separately from the board (couldn't find anything bundled so far), I would assume a USB connection for input, but what other "popular" options do I have besides USB (if the board doesn't support that).

As for output, I've got no clue. I'm looking for something basic... that is I can send signals to certain ports on the board (similar to what the PIC does) but from what I've seen there are many standard connector types. It's overwhelming.

PS: Going back to your original idea of having a micro PC, it seems weight is not an issue there, but what about power?
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Here is the reply that I received:

Dear Alex,

Most modern DSP platforms will support the kind of system you wish to interface. Take a look, for example, at the low-cost TI DSP platforms which are also supplied with Code Composer Studio. However, in order for me to give a definitive answer, I would need to know your data rate, the kind of processing you wish to perform and the interface configurations.

Best wishes,


Let me know if you want me to ask him anything else.

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Sure, you could pass digital signals down these lines. However you might have an issue with any DC-blocking capacitors in the audio signal paths on the DSK board.

The other way would be to use an ADC/DAC and go analogue.

I am sure there are other ingenious ways to use these ports for data, but why cant you use the expansion ports on the board itself?

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Thats because the a daughter card camera is connected to it. I've been reading more about this and the C6xx series aren't great for video decoding. Thats why I have decided on this,

TMDSEVM355 has S-video / composite input and a RS232 UART output that I can interface easily.

Thinking of getting this camera (didn't search much), http://bit.ly/ZpBuC , as it can be interfaced with the board easily, and is not to high in resolution 628x582px which means more processing can be done without fear of "time issues"

Any comments, maybe I missed something somewhere.

Thanks :D

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I see. No that camera looks ideal since your board has a composite video signal input. I see from the schematics that, following the standard, a transceiver is used for the RS232 link, so you immediately need a similar IC on the side of your PIC, possibly the same (get samples from Maxim for free)

I can't comment on what would be a good resolution for your application. However, your blimp will be quite high and your camera optics are quite poor, so maybe a higher resolution is desirable to perform digital zoom? Also, I wouldn't say that the application is not required to respond in 1 second if there is a fire, I mean fast response is not a priority, valid identification of a fire is more important though.

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