Vehicle Asset Management System

The Challenge

Vehicle Asset Management System (VAM) products enable efficient management of vehicular fleets (e.g. fleets, emergency services and heavy equipment/machinery) and offer driver-behaviour monitoring for the vehicle insurance markets. This is achieved through incorporating cellular modems and GPS modules, both of which require antennas to function effectively.

There is often enormous market pressure to reduce the size of products of this kind, for example, so they can fit into a cramped location in the vehicle. This can transform the development of the antenna system from a straightforward integration of individual designs, focussed on particular frequency bands, to a highly complex custom development. Each antenna interacts strongly with other antennas and with components of the product (PCB, battery etc). In many ways, it can be said that the entire product becomes the antenna. Plextek began working on this technology in 1993 and since the initial brief works with multiple clients in this area through our spinout business Redtail Telematics.

The Approach

Fortunately, we have the ability to model the electromagnetics of the entire product, allowing us to predict the impact of design changes and reduce the need to iterate. The antenna design process used by Plextek also takes account of the VAM product placement in the vehicle and, in particular, consideration of materials close to the VAM unit that might affect the performance of the antenna system.

The VAM product uses a custom designed a multiband-band cellular antenna, integrated onto a PCB substrate together with a custom GPS antenna. This solution exceeds the performance requirements set out in the standards, resulting in a lower product cost than the equivalent COTS antennas and allows integration into a tiny product package.  Plextek is responsible for the design and manufacture of the Redtail Telematics range of Vehicle Asset Management (VAM) products.

The Outcome

In 2015, Plextek Ltd formally spun out Redtail Telematics, which provides turnkey vehicle telematics services to the fleet management and automotive insurance markets. Since 1993, Redtail have shipped more than six million tracking devices into line fit and aftermarket vehicles for stolen vehicle recovery. Redtail’s expertise in working collaboratively to answer challenging questions directs our efforts in working with OEMs to fulfil the potential of the connected vehicle, from line fit vehicle tracking with Mercedes Benz, through golf-cart battery health with Columbia Vehicle, to pothole detection with Jaguar Land Rover & Synaptiv.

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Intelligent Mobility

The Challenge

Autonomous vehicles must be capable of sensing their environment, including moving objects and people, so that they can move safely with little to no human input or risk. The de-risking exercise involves testing and validation using real life scenarios in a controlled environment. The health of the decisions taken by the vehicles on-board systems need to be validated by external sources of information.

Cranfield University’s on campus test road equipped with Cameras and Lidars provides that environment. However, these external sources have limitations that needed complementary solutions to enhance the data set required for decision making.

In pursuit of achieving the next level of vehicle autonomy, Plextek assisted Cranfield University in its £1.2 million pound HumanDrive Connected and Autonomous Vehicle project. The aim of which was to test and validate the full autonomy of a vehicle as it completes an end-to-end journey.

The Approach

Plextek provided Cranfield University with 12 electronic-scanning radars to form a robust testing process for their advanced vehicle control system. Compact and low power consumption, the radars were spaced along the University’s “smart road” to detect and localise vehicles, unmanned aerial systems and people from up to 120 metres, providing vital data for the project.

The advanced vehicle control system, designed to emulate a ‘natural’ human driving style using machine learning and artificial intelligence, was challenged in a variety of environments and weather conditions. Situations that would test the ability of a human driver were simulated, including densely populated sidewalks and navigating roads with low visibility, such as rain and darkness. The data provided by radars installed on the test road was used to test and validate the decisions made by autonomous vehicles.

The Outcome

In late 2019, HumanDrive will complete a complex real-world journey that is both driverless and human-like for other road users.

The autonomous vehicle will perform a 200+ mile route across the UK through country roads, A-roads, traffic junctions and motorways.

This marks a pivotal point for the successful deployment of an autonomous vehicle solution in the UK. https://humandrive.co.uk/

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Tyre Pressure Monitoring

The Challenge

A market leader in tyre pressure monitoring was going through a transformation of their product from Analog to Digital. A product that worked in their labs and limited trials failed when put to test in the real environment.

The designers and developers were all baffled by the tricky engineering conundrum they were facing. With contracts already signed and customers waiting for the product, the client wanted to bring on board a consultant with a strong background in accelerometers and signal processing.

The Approach

Plextek consultants audited the design and conducted a thorough analysis of the data and algorithms. Professional tools and standards were used for analysing the data that helped identify the errors at different stages of the design.

Detailed interviews highlighted the disconnect between technical and business functions that resulted in the gradual introduction of errors at different stages rendering the product unusable for real environments.

A new build-measure-learn approach was introduced along with actionable metrics.

The Outcome

Design faults were identified and the product redesigned to required standards. Process improvements were put in place for long term gains. This resulted in saving major contracts and mitigated the potential financial loss for our client.

The new build-measure-learn approach reduced the development cycle from months to weeks and the actionable metrics helped streamline the right actions at the right time.

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Distributed Real Time Spectrum Monitoring

Radio interference is unwanted signals caused by faulty or illegal equipment that emits energy outside of legally controlled limited. It can interrupt all manner of equipment and cause chaos.
- Nicholas Hill, CEO.

The Challenge

Organisations with assets or critical processes that rely on radio signalling can range from international airports and power stations to office blocks. This requires constant monitoring for radio interference threats, and responding effectively to them when they occur.

Monitoring the radio spectrum for interference poses a range of challenges. There is the need to monitor a large amount of bandwidth in the electromagnetic spectrum concurrently, driving the need for complex receiver hardware with wide instantaneous bandwidths as well as a capability to process large volumes of data in real time.

Another key challenge is the wide geographic areas that need coverage. This ideally requires a dense network of receivers to identify and locate signals in amongst wanted signals. The need to have a distributed population of complex receivers has previously been unexplored, primarily due to the cost of hardware and the burden of deploying the infrastructure.

 

The Approach

Over recent years, the cost of small Software Defined Radio (SDR) platforms has been falling whilst their capability has improved. These technical advances allowed Plextek to redefine the trade-offs in spectrum monitoring to create a network of low cost sensor nodes.

Angle of arrival techniques were implemented using phase locked dual channel SDRs allowing better performance than a simple power of arrival based system, which struggles to locate devises not surrounded by SDR nodes.

Signal processing was implemented to allow the SDR deployment to cooperate as a collective, reducing detection false alarms and allowing better localisation in a multi-path rich environment.

The Outcome

Plextek have demonstrated that a network of distributed low cost devices can provide a wider coverage and better detection of lower amplitude threats across a site with complex propagation characteristics than traditional single sensor systems.

Plextek’s distributed spectrum monitoring system is a new and powerful platform for monitoring interference issues at high value sites.

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Drone Inspection of Solar Farms

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. As luctus nisi viverra libero aliquam, and viverra ante arises. Mauris nec ante vel is posuere.
- Philip Handley, Smart DCC Ltd.

The Challenge

Government incentives and lower cost Photo Voltaic (PV) cells have seen solar generation expand across the UK over the past decade. Solar energy is now capable of contributing close to 10 GW to the national grid in peak seasons.

Consequently, solar farms are big business. Maximising the efficiency of their operation really pays off for operators, but requires complex maintenance and advanced monitoring.

Our client, Above Surveying, approach Plextek to improve their inspection methods, previously a labour intensive activity performed by highly trained analysts.

As the business grew, airborne drones were utilised as a scalable solution to capture precise thermographic and video diagnostic data.

The challenge was to translate data collected from an airborne drone into a format that machine-learning tools could process. This involved removing solar glint and other artefacts and rationalising images with ground plans.

The Approach

Plextek provided consultancy recommending the best image processing and machine-learning work flows to allow automated data analysis.

Plextek worked closely with Above Surveying technical teams to assess feasibility of different approaches, settling on a recommendation that could be easily implemented within their existing processes and workflow.

The Outcome

Plextek’s input helped Above Surveying automate their analysis, removing a bottleneck to expanding their business.

Above surveying have now checked over 8.5 million solar panel modules, identifying more than 200,000 defects, allowing their solar farm customers to optimise efficiency and revenue.

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