micro-radar

Vlog: Micro Radar for Unmanned Aerial Systems

Peter Doig

By: Peter Doig
Business Manager, Defence

21st May 2018

Home » Insights » Defence

For a number of years now, we’ve been researching the uses of high-frequency mm-wave micro-radar for a number of different applications.

In 2017, we were awarded funding in DSTL’s newly formed Defence and Security Accelerator competition, in which we were able to develop our micro radar system further to enable an Unmanned Air System (UAS) to autonomously provide resupply of equipment from up to 30 km away.

Peter discusses how the technology has developed over the years, our progress within the program and the capability the technology brings.

Transcript

So Plextek have been researching and developing millimetre-wave 60 gigahertz micro-radar technology for the past four years predominantly working with DSTL, starting under their autonomous systems underpinning research program where we developed a radar testbed to prove the utility of the radar to enable small drones to operate in complex urban environments.

This enabled Plextek to then design and build a low-cost compact micro-radar prototype which could be included within the autonomous last-mile resupply program. So under DSTL’s autonomous last mile resupply program, a defence and security accelerator competition, we wanted to assess the performance of the micro-radar mounted on a drone so we undertook a number of trials to measure the performance of the radar against a range of terrain types and objects, including trees, hedges, powerlines and buildings and vehicles.

We successfully demonstrated the ability of the radar to detect powerlines out to 60 metres and vehicles out to 300 metres.

Moving forward, we are keen to work with partners either who are providing a UAV or an unmanned ground vehicle to optimise the radar and its various parameters for the chosen platform and then advance the radar processing to successfully demonstrate the various concept of operations that are required, for example the autonomous sense and avoid, or possibly the need and desire for accurate landing capability where we would look to link the radar with a passive radar retroreflector which could act as a beacon for the solider with regards to his resupply requirement.

However, ultimately there are lots of exciting exploitation opportunities for the radar into different defence requirements and we’re really excited about listening to those requirements from people and working with them to meet it.

For a number of years now, we’ve been researching the uses of high-frequency mm-wave micro-radar for a number of different applications.

In 2017, we were awarded funding by DSTL’s newly formed Defence and Security Accelerator competition, in which we were able to develop our micro radar system further to enable an Unmanned Air System (UAS) to autonomously provide resupply of equipment from up to 30 km away.

Peter discusses how the technology has developed over the years, our progress within the program and the capability the technology brings.

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Transcript

So Plextek have been researching and developing millimetre-wave 60 gigahertz micro-radar technology for the past four years predominantly working with DSTL, starting under their autonomous systems underpinning research program where we developed a radar testbed to prove the utility of the radar to enable small drones to operate in complex urban environments.

This enabled Plextek to then design and build a low-cost compact micro-radar prototype which could be included within the autonomous last-mile resupply program. So under DSTL’s autonomous last mile resupply program, a defence and security accelerator competition, we wanted to assess the performance of the micro-radar mounted on a drone so we undertook a number of trials to measure the performance of the radar against a range of terrain types and objects, including trees, hedges, powerlines and buildings and vehicles.

We successfully demonstrated the ability of the radar to detect powerlines out to 60 metres and vehicles out to 300 metres.

Moving forward, we are keen to work with partners either who are providing a UAV or an unmanned ground vehicle to optimise the radar and its various parameters for the chosen platform and then advance the radar processing to successfully demonstrate the various concept of operations that are required, for example the autonomous sense and avoid, or possibly the need and desire for accurate landing capability where we would look to link the radar with a passive radar retroreflector which could act as a beacon for the solider with regards to his resupply requirement.

However, ultimately there are lots of exciting exploitation opportunities for the radar into different defence requirements and we’re really excited about listening to those requirements from people and working with them to meet it.

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Further Reading

Armour Integrity Monitoring System

Vlog: Armour Integrity Monitoring System

Bede O'Neill - Business Development Consultant, Defence

By: Bede O’Neill
Business Development Consultant, Defence

4th May 2018

Home » Insights » Defence

Body armour worn by soldiers can become damaged through accidental collisions and knocks. In most cases, visual inspection of the armour surface is insufficient in ascertaining its integrity and, as a precautionary measure, the armour is shipped back to the OEM for extensive X-Ray analysis.

In our first vlog, Bede discusses our solution to this problem, how we approached this issue and what we learned.

Transcript

With regards to our new sensor, AIMS – armour integrity monitoring system originally started as an answer to a research call to reduce the 100% need to return the body armour for x-ray analysis. To establish its integrity, you need to send it back to the equipment manufacturer for x-ray analysis, which obviously incurs quite a large cost logistically but also you remove that piece of equipment from service and from circulation so it can’t be used.

There was a research call to understand whether this could be speeded up and whether there was another way of determining the integrity of the ceramic body armour without the need for x-ray analysis. Plextek answered this original research call and put forward quite a novel sensor solution in concept. What we delivered was the ability to understand whether the plate had been fractured or not.

The sensor system is quite big and needed to be accessed USB port which wasn’t really deemed practical. So we shrunk the concept down to a very small packaged sensor system, almost you would call it a fit and forget, where the interrogation of the sensor is via NFC, near-field communications and that is facilitated by a mobile phone handset, whether that be android or apple.

This allows us or allows the user to interrogate the status of the body armour without the need for specialist software, specialist laptops, leads or cables.

Body armour worn by soldiers can become damaged through accidental collisions and knocks. In most cases, visual inspection of the armour surface is insufficient in ascertaining its integrity and, as a precautionary measure, the armour is shipped back to the OEM for extensive X-Ray analysis.

In our first vlog, Bede discusses our solution to this problem, how we approached this issue and what we learned.

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Transcript

With regards to our new sensor, AIMS – armour integrity monitoring system originally started as an answer to a research call to reduce the 100% need to return the body armour for x-ray analysis. To establish its integrity, you need to send it back to the equipment manufacturer for x-ray analysis, which obviously incurs quite a large cost logistically but also you remove that piece of equipment from service and from circulation so it can’t be used.

There was a research call to understand whether this could be speeded up and whether there was another way of determining the integrity of the ceramic body armour without the need for x-ray analysis. Plextek answered this original research call and put forward quite a novel sensor solution in concept. What we delivered was the ability to understand whether the plate had been fractured or not.

The sensor system is quite big and needed to be accessed USB port which wasn’t really deemed practical. So we shrunk the concept down to a very small packaged sensor system, almost you would call it a fit and forget, where the interrogation of the sensor is via NFC, near-field communications and that is facilitated by a mobile phone handset, whether that be android or apple.

This allows us or allows the user to interrogate the status of the body armour without the need for specialist software, specialist laptops, leads or cables.

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Further Reading

Armor Integrity Monitoring System (AIMS)

AIMS – Body Armour Smart Sensor for the Tactical Environment

Bede O'Neill - Business Development Consultant, Defence

By: Bede O’Neill
Business Development Consultant, Defence

16th August 2017

Home » Insights » Defence

Throughout the ages, from earliest forms of protective shields, such as leather panels, chain mail to full armoured suits – body armour has always played a crucial role in protecting the lives of combatants. Modern day armed forces personnel wear configurations that can typically include ceramic body armour plates. Ceramic plates are highly effective at minimising the effects of projectiles presenting much greater stopping power than the soft armour variants typically found in lightweight ballistic vests. Whilst ceramic armour is hard and lightweight, its inherent design is to disperse the kinetic energy and, therefore, the penetration ability of the projectile by fracturing.

As a result, it is imperative that the ceramic body armour plate is regularly checked to verify the integrity of the ceramic structure and without specialist x-ray analysis it can be very difficult to spot this damage. The consequence of x-ray analysis as an integral element of maintenance support is a prolonged inspection cycle.

To address this issue, Plextek have developed a sensor system that removes the need for regular x-ray analysis. The Armour Integrity Monitoring System (AIMS) uses a small low power inertial sensor to detect impact events sustained by the plate. The wearer of the armour can then use a smartphone with near-field communication (NFC) to interrogate the AIMS sensor to check for plate damage following an impact event.

With an estimated five year operating life, the AIMS sensor is truly a ‘fit and forget’ device that can be retrofitted to existing ceramic body armour stocks. Whilst each plate requires only one AIMS monitoring sensor, a single smartphone can be used to check the condition of an entire deployed fleet of plates.

What AIMS delivers to the user is a first line confidence test to verify that their ballistic protection is fit for use. Previously only confirmed by x-ray analysis, AIMS provides an immediate status update ensuring that personnel have the protection that they deserve.

The introduction of AIMS to an existing fleet significantly drives down the equipment whole life costs by removing the logistic and unit costs incurred when dispatching body armour back to the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for specialist x-ray analysis. As an active monitoring sensor, AIMS continues to provide an updated status of the body armour even if it has been in storage for a significant period since the last x-ray.

A truly smart sensor for the tactical environment, AIMS can be reconfigured to record multiple impact events. This information, presented on the smart phone app, can be used by medical professionals to help understand the trauma that the user has experienced. This valuable data could be used to help triage patients and diagnose the possibility and likely severity of internal injuries.

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Throughout the ages, from earliest forms of protective shields, such as leather panels, chain mail to full armoured suits – body armour has always played a crucial role in protecting the lives of combatants. Modern day armed forces personnel wear configurations that can typically include ceramic body armour plates. Ceramic plates are highly effective at minimising the effects of projectiles presenting much greater stopping power than the soft armour variants typically found in lightweight ballistic vests. Whilst ceramic armour is hard and lightweight, its inherent design is to disperse the kinetic energy and, therefore, the penetration ability of the projectile by fracturing.

As a result, it is imperative that the ceramic body armour plate is regularly checked to verify the integrity of the ceramic structure and without specialist x-ray analysis it can be very difficult to spot this damage. The consequence of x-ray analysis as an integral element of maintenance support is a prolonged inspection cycle.

To address this issue, Plextek have developed a sensor system that removes the need for regular x-ray analysis. The Armour Integrity Monitoring System (AIMS) uses a small low power inertial sensor to detect impact events sustained by the plate. The wearer of the armour can then use a smartphone with near-field communication (NFC) to interrogate the AIMS sensor to check for plate damage following an impact event.

With an estimated five year operating life, the AIMS sensor is truly a ‘fit and forget’ device that can be retrofitted to existing ceramic body armour stocks. Whilst each plate requires only one AIMS monitoring sensor, a single smartphone can be used to check the condition of an entire deployed fleet of plates.

What AIMS delivers to the user is a first line confidence test to verify that their ballistic protection is fit for use. Previously only confirmed by x-ray analysis, AIMS provides an immediate status update ensuring that personnel have the protection that they deserve.

The introduction of AIMS to an existing fleet significantly drives down the equipment whole life costs by removing the logistic and unit costs incurred when dispatching body armour back to the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for specialist x-ray analysis. As an active monitoring sensor, AIMS continues to provide an updated status of the body armour even if it has been in storage for a significant period since the last x-ray.

A truly smart sensor for the tactical environment, AIMS can be reconfigured to record multiple impact events. This information, presented on the smart phone app, can be used by medical professionals to help understand the trauma that the user has experienced. This valuable data could be used to help triage patients and diagnose the possibility and likely severity of internal injuries.

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Further Reading

Computing with Dead Cats and Dice

Computing with Dead Cats and Dice

Aled Catherall - Technology Lead, Defence

By: Aled Catherall
Technology Lead, Defence

19th April 2017

Home » Insights » Defence

In the last year or so, you may have come across the term “Quantum Computing”. Unless you are old enough to have used punch cards, every computer you have ever used relies on quantum mechanical effects – be it the orientation of the spin of atoms in magnetic hard drives, or the flow of electrons through the crystal lattice of silicon.

However, they are considered conventional computers which perform computations in a classical manner. So what exactly is meant by quantum computing? Why is it different to conventional computing and why is it generating so much excitement in certain circles? The answer is that quantum computing is a complete paradigm shift in the way computational problems are solved and has the potential to offer massive increases in computational speed and efficiency.

binarytubeConventional computers perform computations and store information in binary units called bits, which can be either a “1” or a “0”. Quantum computers, however, use qubits. Qubits differ from ordinary bits in that they can represent a “1”, a “0” or a complex superposition of both.

But what does this actually mean? To think of it in another way, lets visit the thought experiment devised by one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, Erwin Schrodinger. Imagine a sealed box, and, inside this box, there is a cat. A classical interpretation is that the cat is either dead (“0”) or alive and well (“1”). In the mainstream quantum interpretation, the cat can be dead, alive, or a mixture of both dead and alive (e.g. 25% dead and 75% alive).

But don’t worry about opening the box to find a cat that is barely hanging on in there – fortunately, the act of opening the box and observing the cat forces it to be either alive or dead, and not a combination of both.

This is because quantum systems shouldn’t be thought of as exact entities, but rather as probability distributions, where all possible states exist to some degree or another. When the quantum system is examined, it reveals itself in a particular state with a certain probability (and uncertainty).

Ok, great, fantastic! So how is a cat, which you can’t actually observe, of use to anybody? As it turns out, this can be surprisingly useful for solving certain types of problems.

Take the travelling salesman problem for example – the salesman needs to visit N separate destinations and needs to determine the optimal route to take. This could be achieved through brute force by examining all possible route permutations. However, the problem with this is that by the time N reaches 60, there are more permutations than atoms in the universe, which makes this approach far too difficult for conventional computers.

More efficient techniques are available to find the best route, but even these tend to become impractical for most computers as N approaches a few hundred. For larger problems (e.g. the optimal circuit design for an integrated circuit containing millions of components), conventional computers have to rely on heuristic and approximate algorithms. These will yield good, but not optimal answers. A quantum computer, using qubits, however, could simultaneously examine all possible routes and, in very few computations, find the optimum. This relies on the fact that quantum systems like to relax to their lowest energy configuration and can use mysterious processes such as quantum tunnelling to avoid having to climb over a nearby higher energy state in order to reach a lower energy state that is further away.

In a sense, quantum computers can be thought of as massively parallel. They can compute millions of calculations simultaneously as opposed to sequentially, one at a time, as conventional computers do. So, is quantum computing going to revolutionise computing?

QuantumComputer2Quantum computers, as we currently understand them, are only beneficial for solving certain types of problems where the inherent parallelism are beneficial – typically those that can be expressed in terms of minimising some energy function or searching for a match. We know that they should excel at prime factorisation (basically breaking modern encryption), route optimisation and database searching. However, for problems which cannot be expressed in an appropriate manner (e.g. those which require iterative calculations), their benefit over conventional computers will be limited if at all.

Another problem with quantum computers is that they rely on a property called “entanglement”. This is where spatially separated particles are highly correlated (“spooky action at a distance” according to Einstein). Maintaining high correlation requires very cold temperatures – typically requiring a bath of liquid helium, which is a resource not generally available in most workplaces. However, with the advent of cloud computing, there will no doubt be providers of quantum cloud computing in the future to save you the hassle of acquiring liquid helium.

Furthermore, to Einstein’s disbelief, God does, in fact, play dice. What does this mean? An algorithm on a conventional computer will always give the same output when given the same input, regardless of how many times you run it. You can always predict what the outcome will be for a given set of inputs – i.e. it is deterministic.

However, things are far murkier in the world of quantum mechanics. An algorithm on a quantum computer will sometimes give you the right answer, and will also sometimes give you the wrong answer. It may even give a different answer each time you run the algorithm. There is a degree of chance in the final state that the qubits will relax to and it cannot be pre-determined based on the input.

The statistical distribution of the output from many runs can be predicted, but not the output from a single run. Therefore, you need to run a quantum algorithm multiple times and review the outputs before settling on what you believe to be the correct answer. This reduces some of the efficiency benefits and could be problematic where precise solutions are required. It may also give software engineers headaches – how do you debug and benchmark code which can’t be relied upon to give a consistent output?

So, to answer the question of whether or not quantum computers will revolutionise computing – the answer is yes, no, and a mixture of both yes and no (sorry!).

Nevertheless, technology companies such as us should take notice of developments in areas such as quantum computing. The pace of technological change in the modern world is rapid and accelerating. We need to be proactive rather than reactive to the emergence of new technologies and processes, and not be afraid to embrace them if we wish to remain relevant and competitive.

In the last year or so, you may have come across the term “Quantum Computing”. Unless you are old enough to have used punch cards, every computer you have ever used relies on quantum mechanical effects – be it the orientation of the spin of atoms in magnetic hard drives, or the flow of electrons through the crystal lattice of silicon.

However, they are considered conventional computers which perform computations in a classical manner. So what exactly is meant by quantum computing? Why is it different to conventional computing and why is it generating so much excitement in certain circles? The answer is that quantum computing is a complete paradigm shift in the way computational problems are solved and has the potential to offer massive increases in computational speed and efficiency.

binarytubeConventional computers perform computations and store information in binary units called bits, which can be either a “1” or a “0”. Quantum computers, however, use qubits. Qubits differ from ordinary bits in that they can represent a “1”, a “0” or a complex superposition of both.

But what does this actually mean? To think of it in another way, lets visit the thought experiment devised by one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, Erwin Schrodinger. Imagine a sealed box, and, inside this box, there is a cat. A classical interpretation is that the cat is either dead (“0”) or alive and well (“1”). In the mainstream quantum interpretation, the cat can be dead, alive, or a mixture of both dead and alive (e.g. 25% dead and 75% alive).

But don’t worry about opening the box to find a cat that is barely hanging on in there – fortunately, the act of opening the box and observing the cat forces it to be either alive or dead, and not a combination of both.

This is because quantum systems shouldn’t be thought of as exact entities, but rather as probability distributions, where all possible states exist to some degree or another. When the quantum system is examined, it reveals itself in a particular state with a certain probability (and uncertainty).

Ok, great, fantastic! So how is a cat, which you can’t actually observe, of use to anybody? As it turns out, this can be surprisingly useful for solving certain types of problems.

Take the travelling salesman problem for example – the salesman needs to visit N separate destinations and needs to determine the optimal route to take. This could be achieved through brute force by examining all possible route permutations. However, the problem with this is that by the time N reaches 60, there are more permutations than atoms in the universe, which makes this approach far too difficult for conventional computers.

More efficient techniques are available to find the best route, but even these tend to become impractical for most computers as N approaches a few hundred. For larger problems (e.g. the optimal circuit design for an integrated circuit containing millions of components), conventional computers have to rely on heuristic and approximate algorithms. These will yield good, but not optimal answers. A quantum computer, using qubits, however, could simultaneously examine all possible routes and, in very few computations, find the optimum. This relies on the fact that quantum systems like to relax to their lowest energy configuration and can use mysterious processes such as quantum tunnelling to avoid having to climb over a nearby higher energy state in order to reach a lower energy state that is further away.

In a sense, quantum computers can be thought of as massively parallel. They can compute millions of calculations simultaneously as opposed to sequentially, one at a time, as conventional computers do. So, is quantum computing going to revolutionise computing?

QuantumComputer2Quantum computers, as we currently understand them, are only beneficial for solving certain types of problems where the inherent parallelism are beneficial – typically those that can be expressed in terms of minimising some energy function or searching for a match. We know that they should excel at prime factorisation (basically breaking modern encryption), route optimisation and database searching. However, for problems which cannot be expressed in an appropriate manner (e.g. those which require iterative calculations), their benefit over conventional computers will be limited if at all.

Another problem with quantum computers is that they rely on a property called “entanglement”. This is where spatially separated particles are highly correlated (“spooky action at a distance” according to Einstein). Maintaining high correlation requires very cold temperatures – typically requiring a bath of liquid helium, which is a resource not generally available in most workplaces. However, with the advent of cloud computing, there will no doubt be providers of quantum cloud computing in the future to save you the hassle of acquiring liquid helium.

Furthermore, to Einstein’s disbelief, God does, in fact, play dice. What does this mean? An algorithm on a conventional computer will always give the same output when given the same input, regardless of how many times you run it. You can always predict what the outcome will be for a given set of inputs – i.e. it is deterministic.

However, things are far murkier in the world of quantum mechanics. An algorithm on a quantum computer will sometimes give you the right answer, and will also sometimes give you the wrong answer. It may even give a different answer each time you run the algorithm. There is a degree of chance in the final state that the qubits will relax to and it cannot be pre-determined based on the input.

The statistical distribution of the output from many runs can be predicted, but not the output from a single run. Therefore, you need to run a quantum algorithm multiple times and review the outputs before settling on what you believe to be the correct answer. This reduces some of the efficiency benefits and could be problematic where precise solutions are required. It may also give software engineers headaches – how do you debug and benchmark code which can’t be relied upon to give a consistent output?
So, to answer the question of whether or not quantum computers will revolutionise computing – the answer is yes, no, and a mixture of both yes and no (sorry!).

Nevertheless, technology companies such as us should take notice of developments in areas such as quantum computing. The pace of technological change in the modern world is rapid and accelerating. We need to be proactive rather than reactive to the emergence of new technologies and processes, and not be afraid to embrace them if we wish to remain relevant and competitive.

Further Reading