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Image and video processing tasks are often confined for real-time execution on large size workstations or expensively custom designed hardware. The current availability of mature reconfigurable hardware, like field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), coupled with the usage of hardware programming languages offers a good path for porting such applications on portable devices. This paper explores the rapid prototyping of a real-time road sign recognition system on a FPGA, using an algorithmic-like hardware programming language: the Handel-C language. We investigate the relationship between efficient Handel-C data, structures, constructs and the related high level C data, structures, constructs. Programming guidelines are proposed for the development of real-time image and video processing, starting from a better organized high level C code that can be then easily ported in Handel-C. Results are illustrated showing the effectiveness of employing Handel-C to turn an entirely software based system into a fully functional field deployable device.