Conversation, Propagation and Good Vibrations

Conversation, Propagation and Good Vibrations

Marcus Walden - Technical Lead, Antennas and Propagation

By: Marcus C. Walden
Technical Lead, Antennas and Propagation

13th September 2017

Home » Insights » Radars

During the summer, I went away on a trip to the USA and came back buzzing. My week away from the office was intense and it was a great experience but I wasn’t on holiday. This was work!

I’d flown to San Diego in order to attend this year’s IEEE International Symposium on Antennas and Propagation (pictured above) and my reason for being there was to present two technical papers that I’d written and submitted about nine months earlier. After 5,478 miles and about eleven and a half hours flying time, I was ready to deliver my two ‘babies’ to the antennas and propagation community and hopefully make a small contribution to the ‘book of knowledge’.

You don’t have to write technical papers to attend conferences. There are a number of good reasons to participate including networking, sales and marketing and even self-training. The social events can be fun as well – imagine a dessert reception on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier and throw in some fireworks too!

Attending a conference can be a daunting experience, especially if it’s your first time and perhaps more so if it’s a large event. The IEEE Antennas and Propagation Symposium typically attracts about 1,500 people from around the world. Attendees come from academia and industry; they might be young Ph.D. students, established university professors or professional engineers – a variety of people at different stages of their career.

At my first-ever symposium, I only knew one person to say hello to. The big names in the crowd were obvious – keeping up-to-date by reading technical articles and engineering books makes you aware of the ‘movers and shakers’ in your subject field – but I felt like a little fish in a vast ocean. I could have been the wallflower at the party but I made the conscious decision to talk to people and come back with a stack of business cards. Evidence to show my MD that I had been busy and maybe justification for him to sign off my expenses bill on my return to the office.

Conferences are great networking events. You get to meet people; some have familiar faces and others are new. These new contacts might lead on to future activities; for example, new research topics to explore, academic and/or business collaborations or an important sale or purchase. These activities might be fairly immediate but more often than not they occur in slow time. It’s an investment for the future.

At the end of my first symposium, my one contact had become many. I had been introduced to new people but I also made the effort to approach others. I had technical and/or business-related questions to ask and the coffee and lunch breaks at conferences allow discussions in more relaxed settings. It can be nerve-wracking to ask a question in front of a large audience and a one-to-one chat can be much more fruitful.

The main purpose of my trip to San Diego was to present two technical papers. The first was given in a twenty-minute slot, which included time for questions. I always get butterflies before a talk, so I practice beforehand until I feel comfortable with my words – I liken it to rehearsing for a school play. Awkward questions can be the stuff of nightmares for a speaker, so I try to critique my own presentation from the viewer’s perspective and imagine what questions they might have. On the day, it can help to have some quiet time to relax and water close by can soothe the dry throat should it appear during the talk.

So why would anyone voluntarily put themselves in this stressful position? If the talk is well-delivered and more so if it is well-received by the audience, there can be an immense adrenaline rush. People approach you after the talk – more networking and new contacts. Feedback can be beneficial; both positive and negative with the latter hopefully given in a constructive manner from which you can develop.

If the thought of talking in front of a technical audience is terrifying – my first-ever antennas and propagation talk was at a session with standing-room only – then a poster presentation might be more comfortable. Discussions in front of your poster are usually led by the interests of the visitor but the subsequent one-to-one interactions can be very informative for both parties. My second paper in San Diego was given as a poster presentation and I really enjoyed the experience. You can also find a few more of my papers in the Antennas & Propagation segment of this website.

Presenting at a conference can generate publicity for you and your company. It can raise the profile of your organisation and its capabilities become more visible to the outside world. As a consequence the sales process benefits. Frequently, a job – or research contract – will only sell if there is evidence of prior experience in a given technology field. Publishing papers helps establish a technical reputation and adds credibility to commercial bids.  

An important function of technical conferences is to enable the exchange of information and knowledge; usually a piece of work that is new and/or original. Examples of new work might include simulation or measurement techniques, measurement results or theories. Even if you don’t get to publish papers, attending a conference keeps you informed of current ‘hot’ technology areas and forms an important part of self-training. Where else do you find a gathering of world’s experts from whom you can learn?

Large conferences typically have multiple sessions running in parallel, so it’s impossible to attend all talks. I try to attend as many presentations as I can during the day. Some sessions are directly related to my current work but others are not; I might want to learn about a new technology area or increase my understanding of another and some talks have curious titles that draw my attention and make me want to find out more.

The presentations – including chats with speakers – are a valuable source of knowledge and understanding. I’ve returned to the office armed with ideas that have fed into designs or been investigated further. Some information provides a steer for sales and marketing. Other nuggets lie dormant to germinate at a later stage, some months or years later.

My interests cover antennas and propagation from HF (2–30 MHz) through to mm-wave frequencies, so the San Diego conference provided a rich feasting ground. For me, conferences are more beneficial than training courses. It provides an opportunity for me to recalibrate myself; to reaffirm strengths but also identify new skills and technologies to develop further.

The week in San Diego was intense. I put in long hours, listened to many talks and met lots of people. It was exciting and fun and I learned a lot. No wonder I was buzzing on my return to the office!



Image credit: IEEE Event photo: Regala Studio

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During the summer, I went away on a trip to the USA and came back buzzing. My week away from the office was intense and it was a great experience but I wasn’t on holiday. This was work!

I’d flown to San Diego in order to attend this year’s IEEE International Symposium on Antennas and Propagation (pictured above) and my reason for being there was to present two technical papers that I’d written and submitted about nine months earlier. After 5,478 miles and about eleven and a half hours flying time, I was ready to deliver my two ‘babies’ to the antennas and propagation community and hopefully make a small contribution to the ‘book of knowledge’.

You don’t have to write technical papers to attend conferences. There are a number of good reasons to participate including networking, sales and marketing and even self-training. The social events can be fun as well – imagine a dessert reception on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier and throw in some fireworks too!

Attending a conference can be a daunting experience, especially if it’s your first time and perhaps more so if it’s a large event. The IEEE Antennas and Propagation Symposium typically attracts about 1,500 people from around the world. Attendees come from academia and industry; they might be young Ph.D. students, established university professors or professional engineers – a variety of people at different stages of their career.

At my first-ever symposium, I only knew one person to say hello to. The big names in the crowd were obvious – keeping up-to-date by reading technical articles and engineering books makes you aware of the ‘movers and shakers’ in your subject field – but I felt like a little fish in a vast ocean. I could have been the wallflower at the party but I made the conscious decision to talk to people and come back with a stack of business cards. Evidence to show my MD that I had been busy and maybe justification for him to sign off my expenses bill on my return to the office.

Conferences are great networking events. You get to meet people; some have familiar faces and others are new. These new contacts might lead on to future activities; for example, new research topics to explore, academic and/or business collaborations or an important sale or purchase. These activities might be fairly immediate but more often than not they occur in slow time. It’s an investment for the future.

At the end of my first symposium, my one contact had become many. I had been introduced to new people but I also made the effort to approach others. I had technical and/or business-related questions to ask and the coffee and lunch breaks at conferences allow discussions in more relaxed settings. It can be nerve-wracking to ask a question in front of a large audience and a one-to-one chat can be much more fruitful.

The main purpose of my trip to San Diego was to present two technical papers. The first was given in a twenty-minute slot, which included time for questions. I always get butterflies before a talk, so I practice beforehand until I feel comfortable with my words – I liken it to rehearsing for a school play. Awkward questions can be the stuff of nightmares for a speaker, so I try to critique my own presentation from the viewer’s perspective and imagine what questions they might have. On the day, it can help to have some quiet time to relax and water close by can soothe the dry throat should it appear during the talk.

So why would anyone voluntarily put themselves in this stressful position? If the talk is well-delivered and more so if it is well-received by the audience, there can be an immense adrenaline rush. People approach you after the talk – more networking and new contacts. Feedback can be beneficial; both positive and negative with the latter hopefully given in a constructive manner from which you can develop.

If the thought of talking in front of a technical audience is terrifying – my first-ever antennas and propagation talk was at a session with standing-room only – then a poster presentation might be more comfortable. Discussions in front of your poster are usually led by the interests of the visitor but the subsequent one-to-one interactions can be very informative for both parties. My second paper in San Diego was given as a poster presentation and I really enjoyed the experience. You can also find a few more of my papers in the Antennas & Propagation segment of this website.

Presenting at a conference can generate publicity for you and your company. It can raise the profile of your organisation and its capabilities become more visible to the outside world. As a consequence the sales process benefits. Frequently, a job – or research contract – will only sell if there is evidence of prior experience in a given technology field. Publishing papers helps establish a technical reputation and adds credibility to commercial bids.

An important function of technical conferences is to enable the exchange of information and knowledge; usually a piece of work that is new and/or original. Examples of new work might include simulation or measurement techniques, measurement results or theories. Even if you don’t get to publish papers, attending a conference keeps you informed of current ‘hot’ technology areas and forms an important part of self-training. Where else do you find a gathering of world’s experts from whom you can learn?

Large conferences typically have multiple sessions running in parallel, so it’s impossible to attend all talks. I try to attend as many presentations as I can during the day. Some sessions are directly related to my current work but others are not; I might want to learn about a new technology area or increase my understanding of another and some talks have curious titles that draw my attention and make me want to find out more.

The presentations – including chats with speakers – are a valuable source of knowledge and understanding. I’ve returned to the office armed with ideas that have fed into designs or been investigated further. Some information provides a steer for sales and marketing. Other nuggets lie dormant to germinate at a later stage, some months or years later.

My interests cover antennas and propagation from HF (2–30 MHz) through to mm-wave frequencies, so the San Diego conference provided a rich feasting ground. For me, conferences are more beneficial than training courses. It provides an opportunity for me to recalibrate myself; to reaffirm strengths but also identify new skills and technologies to develop further.

The week in San Diego was intense. I put in long hours, listened to many talks and met lots of people. It was exciting and fun and I learned a lot. No wonder I was buzzing on my return to the office!



Image credit: IEEE Event photo: Regala Studio

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Further Reading

Millimetre Wave Radar: A New Skyline for Autonomous UAS

Millimetre Wave Radar: A New Skyline for Autonomous UAS

James Henderson - Consultant, Antennas & Propagation

By: James Henderson
Consultant, Antennas & Propagation

23rd August 2017

Home » Insights » Radars

When people talk about what technology is going to be available in the future, most 10-year-olds will imagine a world where we’re all flying around with jet packs on our backs, or being waited on by Humanoid robots. But as an engineer involved in cutting-edge technology, I like to think about a more realistic short-term answer to such a question.

One of the biggest developments over the past decade has been in enabling the autonomy of road vehicles and, whilst various technology companies are promising self-driving cars in the near future, the smaller step of driver aids has become the norm for modern cars. As with most large scale industry advances where huge sums of money are invested in their development, new technologies often open up opportunities to other industries.

This has certainly been the case with the development of cheap millimetre wave (mm-wave) devices. These have come off the back of automotive radar modules for adaptive cruise control and automatic braking assistance. But rather than looking for large vehicles in lanes on the motorway, there are many alternative applications for a mm-wave radar sensor, both for use in civil and military scenarios.

For me, the futuristic application which this enables is that Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) could soon be the common method for automatically delivering all manner of items. From completing takeaway meal orders to medi-kit drops for personnel on the front line – I may not be alone in having this vision but I can say that I’ve played a part in their development.

However, enabling the ability of autonomous flight for small UAS is not a trivial task. There are many difficulties involved with allowing swarms of UAS to safely navigate through the concrete jungle of an urban environment. They would need to avoid buildings, power lines, trees, and potentially other UAS on different errands.

This is especially difficult in a military context, where the environment could be hostile, complex and contested. Operations can take place day, night and in all weather conditions – this would be the case for the last mile resupply requirement (as stated in this most recent Defence and Security Accelerator competition).

For both scenarios, this requires a 3-dimensional situational awareness by detecting small objects, potentially out to hundreds of metres with a level of positional accuracy to allow a fast moving UAS to navigate through a cluttered environment. In this scenario, a low size, weight and power sensor is critical to its success, and pushing radar to operate at mm-wave frequencies could be the solution.

More often than not, radio engineers choose to go up in frequency to utilise the large amounts of available bandwidth, particularly for communication systems where users are demanding ever increasing data rates, but for this application, there’s another advantage. For high definition radar to achieve small angular resolution, the antenna needs to be large with respect to the wavelength. Therefore, increasing the frequency (which will reduce the wavelength) allows us to keep the same resolution in a smaller size.

At Plextek, we have been capitalising on the small wavelength of these mm-wave devices to design a complete radar front end on a single 10 x 10 cm circuit board. This minimises size and weight, but also system complexity, where transmit and receive antennas are inherently aligned on a flat panel.

There are many difficulties with working at higher mm-wave frequencies which primarily come from the increased precision required in every aspect of the design, as well as handling the higher loss associated with high-frequency systems. But the extra effort required is sure to be worth it if it means the Poppadoms in my Indian take away are still warm when they arrive cradled underneath an autonomous UAS. Or those vital supplies are delivered efficiently to personnel engaged in combat operations to maintain operational tempo and enable successful mission outcomes.

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When people talk about what technology is going to be available in the future, most 10-year-olds will imagine a world where we’re all flying around with jet packs on our backs, or being waited on by Humanoid robots. But as an engineer involved in cutting-edge technology, I like to think about a more realistic short-term answer to such a question.

One of the biggest developments over the past decade has been in enabling the autonomy of road vehicles and, whilst various technology companies are promising self-driving cars in the near future, the smaller step of driver aids has become the norm for modern cars. As with most large scale industry advances where huge sums of money are invested in their development, new technologies often open up opportunities to other industries.

This has certainly been the case with the development of cheap millimetre wave (mm-wave) devices. These have come off the back of automotive radar modules for adaptive cruise control and automatic braking assistance. But rather than looking for large vehicles in lanes on the motorway, there are many alternative applications for a mm-wave radar sensor, both for use in civil and military scenarios.

For me, the futuristic application which this enables is that Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) could soon be the common method for automatically delivering all manner of items. From completing takeaway meal orders to medi-kit drops for personnel on the front line – I may not be alone in having this vision but I can say that I’ve played a part in their development.

However, enabling the ability of autonomous flight for small UAS is not a trivial task. There are many difficulties involved with allowing swarms of UAS to safely navigate through the concrete jungle of an urban environment. They would need to avoid buildings, power lines, trees, and potentially other UAS on different errands.

This is especially difficult in a military context, where the environment could be hostile, complex and contested. Operations can take place day, night and in all weather conditions – this would be the case for the last mile resupply requirement (as stated in this most recent Defence and Security Accelerator competition).

For both scenarios, this requires a 3-dimensional situational awareness by detecting small objects, potentially out to hundreds of metres with a level of positional accuracy to allow a fast moving UAS to navigate through a cluttered environment. In this scenario, a low size, weight and power sensor is critical to its success, and pushing radar to operate at mm-wave frequencies could be the solution.

More often than not, radio engineers choose to go up in frequency to utilise the large amounts of available bandwidth, particularly for communication systems where users are demanding ever increasing data rates, but for this application, there’s another advantage. For high definition radar to achieve small angular resolution, the antenna needs to be large with respect to the wavelength. Therefore, increasing the frequency (which will reduce the wavelength) allows us to keep the same resolution in a smaller size.

At Plextek, we have been capitalising on the small wavelength of these mm-wave devices to design a complete radar front end on a single 10 x 10 cm circuit board. This minimises size and weight, but also system complexity, where transmit and receive antennas are inherently aligned on a flat panel.

There are many difficulties with working at higher mm-wave frequencies which primarily come from the increased precision required in every aspect of the design, as well as handling the higher loss associated with high-frequency systems. But the extra effort required is sure to be worth it if it means the Poppadoms in my Indian take away are still warm when they arrive cradled underneath an autonomous UAS. Or those vital supplies are delivered efficiently to personnel engaged in combat operations to maintain operational tempo and enable successful mission outcomes.

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Further Reading