Radars in medical imaging, brain scans

Can Radar be used for Medical Imaging & Monitoring?

By: Nigel Whittle

Head of Medical & Healthcare

10th November 2020

5 minute read

Home » Insights » Industrial

Medical imaging is one of the most important technologies available to doctors and other medical workers, providing critical information for diagnosis and treatment. There is however no single technology for imaging of internal structures that is universally applicable to all tissues, has high resolution, is inexpensive, doesn’t use ionizing radiation, and creates images in real-time. An ideal system would also be portable and low-cost, with the potential for use in ambulances and other out-of-hospital environments.

In recent years a substantial body of experimental work has been performed to apply microwave and radar technologies to the field of medical imaging and biosensing.

Microwave Imaging

The microwave frequency band (300 MHz–30 GHz) possesses useful characteristics, including the use of non-ionizing radiation which is harmless at moderate power levels but penetrates biological tissue reasonably well. Compared with more conventional medical imaging systems such as MRI and X-ray, microwave systems generally offer a lower spatial resolution but a high temporal resolution (ie the ability to resolve fast-paced events).

Microwave medical imaging has been used for breast cancer screening. In this form it relies on differences in dielectric properties between the constituent tissues of the healthy and cancerous tissues in shallow parts of the body. It has also been investigated for stroke detection, bladder volume control, lung oedema, bone analysis and other possibilities.

However the problem with the approach is that human beings are essentially soft tubes of salty water and therefore quite conductive. This significantly reduces the penetration depth possible with radar, such that deeper screening within the body is not really viable.

With lower frequencies (4 – 8 GHz) it is possible to achieve some penetration, but this necessarily reduces the spatial resolution of the output image.

My colleague Damien Clarke, Lead Consultant at Plextek, provided me with the following insights: “This approach for breast cancer screening has been researched for at least a decade now. I know Bristol University has performed significant work in this area, though I don’t know if a clinical product is actually viable yet. Radar Tomography (RT), a new concept in medical imaging, has the potential to encompass all of the above criteria, and so curb radiation exposure, inconvenience, discomfort, and cost.”

Ultra Wide Band

Ultra-wideband (UWB) is a short-range wireless communication protocol, like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, that uses short pulses of radio waves over a spectrum of frequencies ranging from 3.1 to 10.5 GHz. The allowable power limit has been set very low to avoid interference with other technologies that operate in this frequency band, while the wide bandwidth enables very fine time-space resolution.

Due to its features, UWB has the potential for medical monitoring, such as patient motion, wireless vital signs, and medicine storage monitoring. This monitoring function could be applied in intensive care units, post-operative environments, home health care, and paediatric clinics. The deployment of UWB vital signs monitoring system could also enable proactive home monitoring of elderly patients, which could decrease the cost of healthcare by allowing eligible patients to return home from hospital.

Perhaps more significantly, UWB has the potential to detect, noninvasively, tiny movements inside the human body. It could therefore use movement detection of the aorta or other parts of the arterial system to monitor cardiovascular physiology, or other parameters such as heart rate (HR), respiration motion, and blood pressure (BP). Imaging of surface and more deeply located structures such as breast tissue for cancer diagnosis is another promising application of UWB technology that has the potential of taking over the role of X-ray mammography.

Bodily motion

A possible medical application of radar however is to measure chest motion without contact. By looking for particular frequency oscillations it is then possible to estimate heart rate (0.8 – 2 Hz) and respiration rate (0.1 – 0.5 Hz) simultaneously. It is also possible to detect shivering (< 14 Hz) and micro-shivering (7 – 11 Hz) though I don’t really know whether that is a useful diagnostic capability.

Conclusion

As the medical world turns its attention to long-term, mobile, and even home-based imaging and monitoring for preventive screening and early detection of diseases, radar-based biosensing and imaging applications are likely to play an increasingly important role.

Their advantages include potentially low cost and small size of the required hardware, plus a wide application across fields as diverse as heart rate tracking, sleep monitoring and fall detection for the elderly, right across to screening of the cardiovascular system, breast cancer imaging and stroke detection.

References:
Compound Radar Approach for Breast Imaging

Micro-Shivering Detection

Medical imaging is one of the most important technologies available to doctors and other medical workers, providing critical information for diagnosis and treatment. There is however no single technology for imaging of internal structures that is universally applicable to all tissues, has high resolution, is inexpensive, doesn’t use ionizing radiation, and creates images in real-time. An ideal system would also be portable and low-cost, with the potential for use in ambulances and other out-of-hospital environments.

In recent years a substantial body of experimental work has been performed to apply microwave and radar technologies to the field of medical imaging and biosensing.

Microwave Imaging

The microwave frequency band (300 MHz–30 GHz) possesses useful characteristics, including the use of non-ionizing radiation which is harmless at moderate power levels but penetrates biological tissue reasonably well. Compared with more conventional medical imaging systems such as MRI and X-ray, microwave systems generally offer a lower spatial resolution but a high temporal resolution (ie the ability to resolve fast-paced events).

Microwave medical imaging has been used for breast cancer screening. In this form it relies on differences in dielectric properties between the constituent tissues of the healthy and cancerous tissues in shallow parts of the body. It has also been investigated for stroke detection, bladder volume control, lung oedema, bone analysis and other possibilities.

However the problem with the approach is that human beings are essentially soft tubes of salty water and therefore quite conductive. This significantly reduces the penetration depth possible with radar, such that deeper screening within the body is not really viable.

With lower frequencies (4 – 8 GHz) it is possible to achieve some penetration, but this necessarily reduces the spatial resolution of the output image.

My colleague Damien Clarke, Lead Consultant at Plextek, provided me with the following insights: “This approach for breast cancer screening has been researched for at least a decade now. I know Bristol University has performed significant work in this area, though I don’t know if a clinical product is actually viable yet. Radar Tomography (RT), a new concept in medical imaging, has the potential to encompass all of the above criteria, and so curb radiation exposure, inconvenience, discomfort, and cost.”

Ultra Wide Band

Ultra-wideband (UWB) is a short-range wireless communication protocol, like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, that uses short pulses of radio waves over a spectrum of frequencies ranging from 3.1 to 10.5 GHz. The allowable power limit has been set very low to avoid interference with other technologies that operate in this frequency band, while the wide bandwidth enables very fine time-space resolution.

Due to its features, UWB has the potential for medical monitoring, such as patient motion, wireless vital signs, and medicine storage monitoring. This monitoring function could be applied in intensive care units, post-operative environments, home health care, and paediatric clinics. The deployment of UWB vital signs monitoring system could also enable proactive home monitoring of elderly patients, which could decrease the cost of healthcare by allowing eligible patients to return home from hospital.

Perhaps more significantly, UWB has the potential to detect, noninvasively, tiny movements inside the human body. It could therefore use movement detection of the aorta or other parts of the arterial system to monitor cardiovascular physiology, or other parameters such as heart rate (HR), respiration motion, and blood pressure (BP). Imaging of surface and more deeply located structures such as breast tissue for cancer diagnosis is another promising application of UWB technology that has the potential of taking over the role of X-ray mammography.

Bodily motion

A possible medical application of radar however is to measure chest motion without contact. By looking for particular frequency oscillations it is then possible to estimate heart rate (0.8 – 2 Hz) and respiration rate (0.1 – 0.5 Hz) simultaneously. It is also possible to detect shivering (< 14 Hz) and micro-shivering (7 – 11 Hz) though I don’t really know whether that is a useful diagnostic capability.

Conclusion

As the medical world turns its attention to long-term, mobile, and even home-based imaging and monitoring for preventive screening and early detection of diseases, radar-based biosensing and imaging applications are likely to play an increasingly important role.

Their advantages include potentially low cost and small size of the required hardware, plus a wide application across fields as diverse as heart rate tracking, sleep monitoring and fall detection for the elderly, right across to screening of the cardiovascular system, breast cancer imaging and stroke detection.

References:
Compound Radar Approach for Breast Imaging

Micro-Shivering Detection

Further Reading

smart parking systems, traffic congestion, passenger counting technologies

Transportation IOT: Keeping our roads safe

Nicholas Koiza - Head of Business Development, Security

By: Nick Koiza

Head of Security Business

20th October 2020

4 minute read

Home » Insights » Industrial

As we all start moving around our transport systems again, I am reminded almost daily by the risks and safety concerns linked to our congested road systems.

I have a vision that the public should be able to travel easily without worrying about safety on the roads. Aside from education, vehicle servicing, and standard infrastructure maintenance, I believe IoT technologies will significantly enhance the safety of our public whilst they use our road networks. The transportation industry is a huge investor in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), spending approximately $78 billion from 2016-2018. Safety is a part of ‘Transportation IOT’ that is vital for overall success.

In this blog, I list what I consider to be the top 5 areas of transport safety that can be enhanced by IoT technologies:

 

  1. Real-Time Data & AI:

Knowing when to avoid congested or high-risk areas seems simple, but avoidance is the first step to reducing safety risk.  Real-time data utilising AI can be powerful together with IoT technologies. With analytics that can facilitate increased intelligence, we are enabled to make enhanced decision making at both a central or individual level.

Data can come from a huge range of sources. ‘Connected parking’ data can include smart parking systems like the one we helped to develop in Moscow which supports a better flow of vehicles around an urban environment. Interestingly, smart street lighting utilises real-time data to assess when it is dark enough to switch lights on, providing a safer environment. But also these lights could be used in the future as a ‘hub’ for collecting other data like pollution, traffic, and other data.  That combined use of IoT and AI for our network and its surroundings is in its infancy but watch this space.

One of our clients, CNI Guard uses an underground system with environmental sensors to monitor infrastructure. The system prevents and mitigates the risk of gas explosions, stray voltage, flooding, and other breaches of safety, environmental, and quality control regulation. What would have previously taken an accident (ie a manhole explosion) and then a team of people to manually close the road and assess, IoT has enabled automation and risk prevention rather than remediation.

 

  1. Intelligent Transportation Routes

People often use routes they are used to, or ‘the well-trodden path’ instead of the more efficient route. As our Head of Innovation, Alan Cucknell, observed, “people easily fall into routines. When the horrific 7/7 London bombings happened, millions of people were forced to change their usual commuter route. This is a massive behavioural change to observe and interestingly, many people never went back to their previous route. Familiar is not always the best route and smart transport options can find the optimal route, not the route that people are used to”. Innovation in transport can include technology to enable people to make better and safer transport choices, including Public Transit management. At a very basic level, a potential passenger can use a digital display to see how long before their bus/tram arrives. During Covid, more passenger counting technologies are being invested in. These technologies can help companies assess whether their networks are getting congested and unsafe. On a more personalised level, each traveller could use a combination of geofencing, AI, and other smart route tools to enable a personalised, low risk, and quick route.

 

  1. Intelligence on Driver Behaviour

Human error is hard to prevent. How do you incentivise drivers to be more careful, when laws and signage has a limited effect? Our sister company, Redtail Telematics, collects precise, high-resolution data from onboard devices and apps about driver behaviour. This enables insurance companies to offer premiums based on real rather than perceived risk. This can in turn encourage drivers to be more careful on the roads, with rewards related to their behaviour, and subsequently reduced premiums.

When talking to my colleague Andrew Little, of Redtail about whether the technology actually makes a difference on the street, Andrew states: “‘The first six-12 months of a driving career are statistically the most risky. With insight into driving behaviours that can be improved, lives can be, and indeed have been, saved”.

For commercial companies, Vehicle Asset Management (VAM) products provide certainty that vehicles are being driven well, running efficiently, and are where they are supposed to be. This gives fleet managers greater visibility and information to extract further performance from their fleet, which in turn reduces costs as well as safety/operational risk.

Automotive OEMs are increasingly invested in Connected vehicle data (incl. driver behaviours) via conduit platforms to support the road safety agenda.

 

  1. Smart Logistics:

Smart logistics make supply chains more efficient and safer.  Using Intelligent software to identify weak spots in a supply chain can alleviate dangers in transit.

A company, still in the concept stage, I am excited about is Celsius Dynamics which is a logistics solution for cold chain distribution services. Using proprietary algorithms, their smart, digital platform looks at the cold chain process from the manufacturer through to all sequences of temperature-controlled environments.   This level of automation and intelligence theoretically means you can avoid temperature-related explosions in transit, driver tiredness/safety, and ultimately the customer receives a better quality product upon delivery. 

Smart logistics, combined with connected vehicle data is a powerful tool for companies.

 

  1. Autonomous Vehicles & Smart Roads

I believe we need to be very careful about how we implement autonomous vehicles on our roads to ensure that all road users are safer than before this development.   Ensuring the strictest onboard safety standards are adhered to, combined with ‘Smart Street Furniture’ is key.  Practical object and vehicle recognition in intelligent and autonomous transport systems remain a data-first problem.  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 needs to be validated by external sources of information on our roads.  The more unique data that is captured and identified, the more accurate the decision models can be.

Here in the UK, we have started to invest in Smart Roads, but there is a lot of misunderstanding about what a true Smart Road is with many believing the focus is on speed control which is only part of the puzzle.   Cranfield University’s work on project HumanDrive is an exciting development.

Conclusion:

The transportation industry is making great strides in its evolution, and I am so proud that security technologies can enable individuals and companies to be safer using our transport network. This topic is close to my heart so if you have any developments you think I should know about, please get in touch for a chat: Nicholas.koiza@plextek.com.

As we all start moving around our transport systems again, I am reminded almost daily by the risks and safety concerns linked to our congested road systems.

I have a vision that the public should be able to travel easily without worrying about safety on the roads. Aside from education, vehicle servicing, and standard infrastructure maintenance, I believe IoT technologies will significantly enhance the safety of our public whilst they use our road networks. The transportation industry is a huge investor in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), spending approximately $78 billion from 2016-2018. Safety is a part of ‘Transportation IOT’ that is vital for overall success.

In this blog, I list what I consider to be the top 5 areas of transport safety that can be enhanced by IoT technologies:

 

  1. Real-Time Data & AI:

Knowing when to avoid congested or high-risk areas seems simple, but avoidance is the first step to reducing safety risk.  Real-time data utilising AI can be powerful together with IoT technologies. With analytics that can facilitate increased intelligence, we are enabled to make enhanced decision making at both a central or individual level.

Data can come from a huge range of sources. ‘Connected parking’ data can include smart parking systems like the one we helped to develop in Moscow which supports a better flow of vehicles around an urban environment. Interestingly, smart street lighting utilises real-time data to assess when it is dark enough to switch lights on, providing a safer environment. But also these lights could be used in the future as a ‘hub’ for collecting other data like pollution, traffic, and other data.  That combined use of IoT and AI for our network and its surroundings is in its infancy but watch this space.

One of our clients, CNI Guard uses an underground system with environmental sensors to monitor infrastructure. The system prevents and mitigates the risk of gas explosions, stray voltage, flooding, and other breaches of safety, environmental, and quality control regulation. What would have previously taken an accident (ie a manhole explosion) and then a team of people to manually close the road and assess, IoT has enabled automation and risk prevention rather than remediation.

 

  1. Intelligent Transportation Routes

People often use routes they are used to, or ‘the well-trodden path’ instead of the more efficient route. As our Head of Innovation, Alan Cucknell, observed, “people easily fall into routines. When the horrific 7/7 London bombings happened, millions of people were forced to change their usual commuter route. This is a massive behavioural change to observe and interestingly, many people never went back to their previous route. Familiar is not always the best route and smart transport options can find the optimal route, not the route that people are used to”. Innovation in transport can include technology to enable people to make better and safer transport choices, including Public Transit management. At a very basic level, a potential passenger can use a digital display to see how long before their bus/tram arrives. During Covid, more passenger counting technologies are being invested in. These technologies can help companies assess whether their networks are getting congested and unsafe. On a more personalised level, each traveller could use a combination of geofencing, AI, and other smart route tools to enable a personalised, low risk, and quick route.

 

  1. Intelligence on Driver Behaviour

Human error is hard to prevent. How do you incentivise drivers to be more careful, when laws and signage has a limited effect? Our sister company, Redtail Telematics, collects precise, high-resolution data from onboard devices and apps about driver behaviour. This enables insurance companies to offer premiums based on real rather than perceived risk. This can in turn encourage drivers to be more careful on the roads, with rewards related to their behaviour, and subsequently reduced premiums.

When talking to my colleague Andrew Little, of Redtail about whether the technology actually makes a difference on the street, Andrew states: “‘The first six-12 months of a driving career are statistically the most risky. With insight into driving behaviours that can be improved, lives can be, and indeed have been, saved”.

For commercial companies, Vehicle Asset Management (VAM) products provide certainty that vehicles are being driven well, running efficiently, and are where they are supposed to be. This gives fleet managers greater visibility and information to extract further performance from their fleet, which in turn reduces costs as well as safety/operational risk.

Automotive OEMs are increasingly invested in Connected vehicle data (incl. driver behaviours) via conduit platforms to support the road safety agenda.

 

  1. Smart Logistics:

Smart logistics make supply chains more efficient and safer.  Using Intelligent software to identify weak spots in a supply chain can alleviate dangers in transit.

A company, still in the concept stage, I am excited about is Celsius Dynamics which is a logistics solution for cold chain distribution services. Using proprietary algorithms, their smart, digital platform looks at the cold chain process from the manufacturer through to all sequences of temperature-controlled environments.   This level of automation and intelligence theoretically means you can avoid temperature-related explosions in transit, driver tiredness/safety, and ultimately the customer receives a better quality product upon delivery. 

Smart logistics, combined with connected vehicle data is a powerful tool for companies.

 

  1. Autonomous Vehicles & Smart Roads

I believe we need to be very careful about how we implement autonomous vehicles on our roads to ensure that all road users are safer than before this development.   Ensuring the strictest onboard safety standards are adhered to, combined with ‘Smart Street Furniture’ is key.  Practical object and vehicle recognition in intelligent and autonomous transport systems remain a data-first problem.  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 needs to be validated by external sources of information on our roads.  The more unique data that is captured and identified, the more accurate the decision models can be.

Here in the UK, we have started to invest in Smart Roads, but there is a lot of misunderstanding about what a true Smart Road is with many believing the focus is on speed control which is only part of the puzzle.   Cranfield University’s work on project HumanDrive is an exciting development.

Conclusion:

The transportation industry is making great strides in its evolution, and I am so proud that security technologies can enable individuals and companies to be safer using our transport network. This topic is close to my heart so if you have any developments you think I should know about, please get in touch for a chat: Nicholas.koiza@plextek.com.

Future mobility, electric cars, inner city congestion

What is the Future of Mobility?

Nicholas Hill, Plextek

By: Nicholas Hill
CEO

13th March 2019

Home » Insights » Industrial

Recently, I found myself on the Shell booth at the MOVE 2019 event in London. The event was all about the future of mobility, so there was an eclectic mix of talks and exhibits on car sharing, electric cars, charging infrastructures, cycling schemes, autonomous taxis, smart parking and the like.

Anyway, I was speaking to a person who was canvassing for opinions on future mobility, and how we might meet our commitments in the Paris Agreement on climate change. She summarised my answer to the latter as “just do it”, as I had suggested making progress was very much about political will and vision, and rather less about enabling technology.

The Problem

The solutions to many of the problems in this space need big, bold, joined up thinking that market forces alone will not deliver. In many cases, the supporting technology needed exists or we know how to create it, such as digital platforms for vehicle sharing or parking management, roadside charging facilities for overnight charging of electric cars, light rail systems, advanced traffic management systems and a low-carbon electricity infrastructure that supports mass charging of electric cars. What is definitely in short supply is the vision to imagine what an effective, efficient and integrated low-carbon transport system would look like in any given city, and the political will (and cash) to encourage its rollout.

It’s always striking to see how easy it is to get around London without a car, given that a bus (with a dedicated lane), tube or DLR train is never more than a few minutes’ walk away. Simply discouraging car use doesn’t seem unreasonable in that environment. In the city where I live, cars clog up almost every main road, and for the most part, public transport alternatives are insufficiently attractive. The train is fine if you are travelling from a distance, but the regular buses and park and ride buses all share the same clogged up roads as the cars. The city is too dense to allow for any meaningful widening of the roads. Indeed bus travel has got worse due to the expansion of cycle lanes, which have eaten into the few short stretches of roadway dedicated to buses. A solution to this is going to require some radical thinking, not tinkering at the edges. Perhaps closing some major roads to through traffic altogether and installing light rail or dedicated bus lanes?

Parking is a nightmare, with many streets clogged with cars circulating, trying to find a parking space that simply doesn’t exist. Simply making parking more and more expensive isn’t fixing this problem. Much of the housing in the city centre comprises narrow streets of terraced houses, with very limited on-street parking. If I lived in one of these houses and wanted to buy an electric car, I’d want to know that there was a charging point close by my house, and that the space next to it wasn’t occupied by a petrol or diesel vehicle.

The Solutions

The push towards autonomous cars is mostly about enabling car sharing or ‘cars on demand’, and as such may have a very positive impact on our street parking issue. However autonomous cars certainly won’t help our rush hour traffic congestion because the same number of people will be in the same number of cars, albeit not in the driving seat. They might even make the situation worse, as people abandon fuel- and traffic-efficient buses and trains for the privacy of a temporarily hired car.

It was interesting, and reassuring, to hear from Shell about their work with other major players on solutions to some of these problems. Listening to a set of partners with sufficient scale and impact to make a difference, the holistic solutions discussed offered to join up electricity generation from renewables, improved electricity distribution and e-car charging systems, and pushed for the use of e-car batteries that are plugged into the network to assist with demand smoothing.

As a technologist, I went to the show looking for examples of how new tech was going to drive us to meet our future mobility needs and climate change goals. For the most part, I came away thinking about the policy, business and market problems that need to be solved first, rather than the technology.

By the way, the most thought-provoking tech at the show was an interesting application of ground penetrating radar (GPR) from WaveSense. Their system builds a reference map of the terrain underneath the roadway, using the GPR returns to map the subsurface features. A vehicle equipped with a GPR can use the sensor and its reference map to provide improved positional accuracy than a standalone GPS, or can assist with location when GPS is degraded in built-up areas. It’s a fascinating example of innovation through technology transfer across markets.

Also worthy of note is system from NIRA Dynamics, which can detect road surface conditions in real-time by using standard telematics equipment. The NIRA solution collects data from a cohort of telematics-enabled vehicles, applying custom fusion algorithms to build up a real-time picture of the roughness and friction of the road surface. The friction maps can be passed back to the vehicles, providing alerts on potential danger areas and reducing the potential for accidents.

These examples may not open the door to the brave new world of future mobility, but both offered real improvements to issues facing us in the here and now.

Recently, I found myself on the Shell booth at the MOVE 2019 event in London. The event was all about the future of mobility, so there was an eclectic mix of talks and exhibits on car sharing, electric cars, charging infrastructures, cycling schemes, autonomous taxis, smart parking and the like.

Anyway, I was speaking to a person who was canvassing for opinions on future mobility, and how we might meet our commitments in the Paris Agreement on climate change. She summarised my answer to the latter as “just do it”, as I had suggested making progress was very much about political will and vision, and rather less about enabling technology.

The solutions to many of the problems in this space need big, bold, joined up thinking that market forces alone will not deliver. In many cases, the supporting technology needed exists or we know how to create it, such as digital platforms for vehicle sharing or parking management, roadside charging facilities for overnight charging of electric cars, light rail systems, advanced traffic management systems and a low-carbon electricity infrastructure that supports mass charging of electric cars. What is definitely in short supply is the vision to imagine what an effective, efficient and integrated low-carbon transport system would look like in any given city, and the political will (and cash) to encourage its rollout.

It’s always striking to see how easy it is to get around London without a car, given that a bus (with a dedicated lane), tube or DLR train is never more than a few minutes’ walk away. Simply discouraging car use doesn’t seem unreasonable in that environment. In the city where I live, cars clog up almost every main road, and for the most part, public transport alternatives are insufficiently attractive. The train is fine if you are travelling from a distance, but the regular buses and park and ride buses all share the same clogged up roads as the cars. The city is too dense to allow for any meaningful widening of the roads. Indeed bus travel has got worse due to the expansion of cycle lanes, which have eaten into the few short stretches of roadway dedicated to buses. A solution to this is going to require some radical thinking, not tinkering at the edges. Perhaps closing some major roads to through traffic altogether and installing light rail or dedicated bus lanes?

Parking is a nightmare, with many streets clogged with cars circulating, trying to find a parking space that simply doesn’t exist. Simply making parking more and more expensive isn’t fixing this problem. Much of the housing in the city centre comprises narrow streets of terraced houses, with very limited on-street parking. If I lived in one of these houses and wanted to buy an electric car, I’d want to know that there was a charging point close by my house, and that the space next to it wasn’t occupied by a petrol or diesel vehicle.

The push towards autonomous cars is mostly about enabling car sharing or ‘cars on demand’, and as such may have a very positive impact on our street parking issue. However autonomous cars certainly won’t help our rush hour traffic congestion because the same number of people will be in the same number of cars, albeit not in the driving seat. They might even make the situation worse, as people abandon fuel- and traffic-efficient buses and trains for the privacy of a temporarily hired car.

It was interesting, and reassuring, to hear from Shell about their work with other major players on solutions to some of these problems. Listening to a set of partners with sufficient scale and impact to make a difference, the holistic solutions discussed offered to join up electricity generation from renewables, improved electricity distribution and e-car charging systems, and pushed for the use of e-car batteries that are plugged into the network to assist with demand smoothing.

As a technologist, I went to the show looking for examples of how new tech was going to drive us to meet our future mobility needs and climate change goals. For the most part, I came away thinking about the policy, business and market problems that need to be solved first, rather than the technology.

By the way, the most thought-provoking tech at the show was an interesting application of ground penetrating radar (GPR) from WaveSense. Their system builds a reference map of the terrain underneath the roadway, using the GPR returns to map the subsurface features. A vehicle equipped with a GPR can use the sensor and its reference map to provide improved positional accuracy than a standalone GPS, or can assist with location when GPS is degraded in built-up areas. It’s a fascinating example of innovation through technology transfer across markets.

Also worthy of note is system from NIRA Dynamics, which can detect road surface conditions in real-time by using standard telematics equipment. The NIRA solution collects data from a cohort of telematics-enabled vehicles, applying custom fusion algorithms to build up a real-time picture of the roughness and friction of the road surface. The friction maps can be passed back to the vehicles, providing alerts on potential danger areas and reducing the potential for accidents.

These examples may not open the door to the brave new world of future mobility, but both offered real improvements to issues facing us in the here and now.

EW BrightSpark, James Henderson One Year On

James Henderson - Consultant, Antennas & Propagation

By: James Henderson
Consultant, Antennas & Propagation

27th February 2019

Home » Insights » Industrial

Following the BrightSparks award ceremony in May last year, most of my work has been on developing an electronically-scanned radar unit operating at mm-wave frequencies, applicable to autonomous ground and air vehicle monitoring and control. This has been a particularly interesting and challenging project as the design has been driven by a demanding requirement to create a small, low power, high performance sensor.

The key area of innovative design that I am particularly proud of is combining two 48-element antenna arrays on to the same PCB as the electronic circuitry. To achieve a low cost, the arrays are realised through a combination of 3D printing and PCB techniques.

This development posed many technical challenges owing to the often conflicting PCB-related requirements of antenna and RF circuitry. However, integration and performance benefits make this approach worthwhile.

System calculations

Initial work on this project required comprehensive system calculations to exactly understand the design requirements. System level planning is informative when determining how to distribute the required tasks.

Often, a number of subsystems could potentially solve the same technical challenge but only when looking at the problem as a whole can you assess how the elements of the system can best work together.

Scanning the radar beam

A key aspect of the design was how to scan the radar beam. In a previous project the antennas were mechanically moved to build up a 3D view of the scene. In contrast the new requirement was to scan the antenna beams electronically, which has many advantages over mechanically scanned systems. Electronic beamforming can be implemented digitally, at the analogue front end, or even within the antennas themselves.

In this design, the scanning mechanism was an integral part of the antenna array, which significantly simplifies other aspects of the system leading to a small sensor having low power consumption. However, this approach required lateral thinking when designing and constructing the PCB to achieve the target performance. For the first iteration of the design the electronics worked as intended, but the antenna performance was lower than expected.

Further investigation revealed the reason for the drop in performance and emphasised the many and varied challenges associated with working at mm-wave frequencies.

Special Interest

The second design iteration gave performance closely matched to my system calculations. This confirmed that the design operated as intended, which was extremely satisfying.

This whole process has exposed me to some particularly interesting design work and has consequently encouraged me to initiate a Special Interest Group within Plextek that specialises in the design and development of mm-wave electronic systems.

Following this project I expect to see substantial interest in operating at mm-wave bands, enhancing the capability of mm-wave circuits and I’m excited to be working with these cutting-edge technologies in the future.

The CEO of Plextek, Nicholas Hill, added:

“BrightSparks is a fantastic way to show your employees’ work is valued. It’s so important to get young people enthusiastic about their engineering careers and award recognition is a great motivational boost. The BrightSparks award last year won by James Henderson was well deserved and he has continued to shape his engineering career by contributing to key company projects here at Plextek.”

Following the BrightSparks award ceremony in May last year, most of my work has been on developing an electronically-scanned radar unit operating at mm-wave frequencies, applicable to autonomous ground and air vehicle monitoring and control. This has been a particularly interesting and challenging project as the design has been driven by a demanding requirement to create a small, low power, high performance sensor.

The key area of innovative design that I am particularly proud of is combining two 48-element antenna arrays on to the same PCB as the electronic circuitry. To achieve a low cost, the arrays are realised through a combination of 3D printing and PCB techniques.

This development posed many technical challenges owing to the often conflicting PCB-related requirements of antenna and RF circuitry. However, integration and performance benefits make this approach worthwhile.

System calculations

Initial work on this project required comprehensive system calculations to exactly understand the design requirements. System level planning is informative when determining how to distribute the required tasks.

Often, a number of subsystems could potentially solve the same technical challenge but only when looking at the problem as a whole can you assess how the elements of the system can best work together.

Scanning the radar beam

A key aspect of the design was how to scan the radar beam. In a previous project the antennas were mechanically moved to build up a 3D view of the scene. In contrast the new requirement was to scan the antenna beams electronically, which has many advantages over mechanically scanned systems. Electronic beamforming can be implemented digitally, at the analogue front end, or even within the antennas themselves.

In this design, the scanning mechanism was an integral part of the antenna array, which significantly simplifies other aspects of the system leading to a small sensor having low power consumption. However, this approach required lateral thinking when designing and constructing the PCB to achieve the target performance. For the first iteration of the design the electronics worked as intended, but the antenna performance was lower than expected.

Further investigation revealed the reason for the drop in performance and emphasised the many and varied challenges associated with working at mm-wave frequencies.

Special Interest

The second design iteration gave performance closely matched to my system calculations. This confirmed that the design operated as intended, which was extremely satisfying.

This whole process has exposed me to some particularly interesting design work and has consequently encouraged me to initiate a Special Interest Group within Plextek that specialises in the design and development of mm-wave electronic systems.

Following this project I expect to see substantial interest in operating at mm-wave bands, enhancing the capability of mm-wave circuits and I’m excited to be working with these cutting-edge technologies in the future.

The CEO of Plextek, Nicholas Hill, added:

“BrightSparks is a fantastic way to show your employees’ work is valued. It’s so important to get young people enthusiastic about their engineering careers and award recognition is a great motivational boost. The BrightSparks award last year won by James Henderson was well deserved and he has continued to shape his engineering career by contributing to key company projects here at Plextek.”

 

 

industry 4.0

Principles of Industry 4.0 and the 9 Pillars

Dave Burrel - Senior Consultant, Product Design

By: David Burrell
Senior Consultant, Project Design

7th February 2019

Home » Insights » Industrial

Industry 4.0 (i4.0) refers to the exciting area of automation within manufacturing including IOT, robotics, cloud computing and data management. We can look to the not-very-distant future and see robotics, sensors and integrated systems playing a huge part of a normal manufacturing process. With technologists and engineers regularly discussing topics like the “Smart Factory” and the “4th Industrial Revolution”, David Burrell, Senior Consultant of our Manufacturing Services, discusses what Plextek has been up to in this arena:

“It is interesting to see all the excitement around i4.0 and how we should all be getting involved. But in the end you have to ask yourself, what does it really mean and surely we have been doing this kind of thing for years? In reality, i4.0 is largely the repackaging and combination of capabilities and technologies that already exist; but providing the overall wrapper that enables total interoperability, collecting Big Data, manipulating it and then applying it as positive feedback to improve functionality and efficiency.

“If we look at the 9 pillars of Industry 4.0 below, I have assigned examples to each pillar to show how existing systems, technologies and ideas can be applied to the Industry 4.0 framework:

  1. IOT: IOT gives us the ability to realise Smart Cities: for example, we developed and implemented an intelligent street lighting system and network which can now be enhanced to incorporate collation of environmental data and additional video links.
  2. Big Data: Within the field of vehicle tracking, companies can now manage and interpret Insurance data to enable the interpretation of driver behaviour and accidents.
  3. Cloud Computing: Harvesting large quantities of data involves careful management, and providing a ‘Data warehouse’ facility to organisations is invaluable.
  4. Advanced Simulation: Complex algorithms and testing them allows for projects like inner-city intelligent parking or a ‘Dead reckoning’ capability for GPS denied environments to come to fruition.
  5. Autonomous systems: More systems in business are becoming autonomous and need less human intervention to provide effective results.  We’ve applied this to a transport scenario, with an interesting project recently completed around object and vehicle detection.
  6. Universal Integration: Integrating Factory Test equipment and a bespoke Manufacturing Execution System can enable remote access and feedback into product test yield, improving projections.
  7. Augmented Reality: By creating computer-generated perceptual information it is becoming easier to train your staff, even in unique and difficult conditions. It is very hard for example to provide training scenarios for humanitarian crisis aid or battlefield healthcare without risky in-field training unless you consider AR.
  8. Additive Manufacture: Application of AM techniques to achieve fast market entry and creative solutions is becoming more important in a competitive environment. I have previously written a blog on the 4 steps of Additive Manufacture.
  9. Cyber Security: Security of your infrastructure, both online and offline is a business critical factor. Bespoke systems design will ensure your organisations’ Data Integrity

Having all of these capabilities is all well and good but that is just the beginning, they need to be applied to something in an interconnected way within the manufacturing environment to be counted as Industry 4.0, but that is only an application specific criteria. Industry 4.0 is an exciting area as innovation is combined with sustainable processes.”

For an initial chat about Industry 4.0 and how we can help future-proof your business, then get in touch.

Industry 4.0 (i4.0) refers to the exciting area of automation within manufacturing including IOT, robotics, cloud computing and data management. We can look to the not-very-distant future and see robotics, sensors and integrated systems playing a huge part of a normal manufacturing process. With technologists and engineers regularly discussing topics like the “Smart Factory” and the “4th Industrial Revolution”, David Burrell, Senior Consultant of our Manufacturing Services, discusses what Plextek has been up to in this arena:

“It is interesting to see all the excitement around i4.0 and how we should all be getting involved. But in the end you have to ask yourself, what does it really mean and surely we have been doing this kind of thing for years? In reality, i4.0 is largely the repackaging and combination of capabilities and technologies that already exist; but providing the overall wrapper that enables total interoperability, collecting Big Data, manipulating it and then applying it as positive feedback to improve functionality and efficiency.

“If we look at the 9 pillars of Industry 4.0 below, I have assigned examples to each pillar to show how existing systems, technologies and ideas can be applied to the Industry 4.0 framework:

  1. IOT: IOT gives us the ability to realise Smart Cities: for example, we developed and implemented an intelligent street lighting system and network which can now be enhanced to incorporate collation of environmental data and additional video links.
  2. Big Data: Within the field of vehicle tracking, companies can now manage and interpret Insurance data to enable the interpretation of driver behaviour and accidents.
  3. Cloud Computing: Harvesting large quantities of data involves careful management, and providing a ‘Data warehouse’ facility to organisations is invaluable.
  4. Advanced Simulation: Complex algorithms and testing them allows for projects like inner-city intelligent parking or a ‘Dead reckoning’ capability for GPS denied environments to come to fruition.
  5. Autonomous systems: More systems in business are becoming autonomous and need less human intervention to provide effective results.  We’ve applied this to a transport scenario, with an interesting project recently completed around object and vehicle detection.
  6. Universal Integration: Integrating Factory Test equipment and a bespoke Manufacturing Execution System can enable remote access and feedback into product test yield, improving projections.
  7. Augmented Reality: By creating computer-generated perceptual information it is becoming easier to train your staff, even in unique and difficult conditions. It is very hard for example to provide training scenarios for humanitarian crisis aid or battlefield healthcare without risky in-field training unless you consider AR.
  8. Additive Manufacture: Application of AM techniques to achieve fast market entry and creative solutions is becoming more important in a competitive environment. I have previously written a blog on the 4 steps of Additive Manufacture.
  9. Cyber Security: Security of your infrastructure, both online and offline is a business critical factor. Bespoke systems design will ensure your organisations’ Data Integrity

Having all of these capabilities is all well and good but that is just the beginning, they need to be applied to something in an interconnected way within the manufacturing environment to be counted as being Industry 4.0, but that is only an application specific criteria.

Industry 4.0 is an exciting area as innovation is combined with sustainable processes.  For an initial chat about Industry 4.0 and how we can help future-proof your business, then get in touch.