Plextek: An Intern’s View

Plextek: An Intern’s View

Ben Skinner - Summer Intern

By: Ben Skinner
Summer Intern

12th July 2017

Home » Engineer

With the sun shining down over us, at least 20% of the time, means it must be summer! For many students, this season offers a time to relax, head home and retreat from the lecture halls and library rooms they’ve inhabited for the last ten months. However, for others the summer offers something much more, instead of a retreat, this time offers a chance to leap into the professional world and a chance to put into practice their skills gained at university.

Many of my colleagues at university believe there is only one reason anyone does an internship, money, however, this is far from the truth. For me, I see an internship as a way to gauge my abilities and apply my knowledge. In my opinion, the university system is very good at being able to teach someone the theory of electronics and how it can be implemented, but for the large part, you don’t see how this technological and theoretical knowledge is being used in the real world. In short, internships fill this gap and offer the chance to work on projects with real-world applications.

For three summers, I have been changing scene from Southampton’s campus to the office environment here in Cambridge. Moving from education to the workplace is more than just a location change – it’s an entire state of mind change. In education, any task a student is assigned to do has already been done and proven to work. A great example of this is a project I had to do in my first year, we had to construct a traffic light controller out of logic gates, something that has been done thousands of times before and will, no doubt, be done a thousand times more. Whereas here the projects have not been done before, we’re paving a new path and there’s no mark scheme to follow! It’s exciting stuff.

Now that I have you sold on the idea of internships, your next question is, no doubt, why Plextek? As a consulting firm, a huge range of different projects are worked on here, utilising all sorts of technology for clients in multiple market sectors. From highly accurate radars, capable of picking up a person walking two kilometres away, to sensors that detect if a car is present in a parking bay or not, the work here is hugely diverse and interesting. Over my three years, I’ve worked on all sorts of interesting projects, doing things such as developing a controller for a scanning device to developing a computer vision system; I even spent some time redecorating the office ceiling with QR codes!

I would be lying if I were to say that I only come here for the projects. This company has an amazingly friendly and welcoming atmosphere, everyone is more than happy to spare some time to talk about the projects they’re working on and to offer helpful advice on the projects you’re working on. It’s this supportive and friendly community I love and look forward to entering when my time at university ends.

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With the sun shining down over us, at least 20% of the time, means it must be summer! For many students, this season offers a time to relax, head home and retreat from the lecture halls and library rooms they’ve inhabited for the last ten months. However, for others the summer offers something much more, instead of a retreat, this time offers a chance to leap into the professional world and a chance to put into practice their skills gained at university.

Many of my colleagues at university believe there is only one reason anyone does an internship, money, however, this is far from the truth. For me, I see an internship as a way to gauge my abilities and apply my knowledge. In my opinion, the university system is very good at being able to teach someone the theory of electronics and how it can be implemented, but for the large part, you don’t see how this technological and theoretical knowledge is being used in the real world. In short, internships fill this gap and offer the chance to work on projects with real-world applications.

For three summers, I have been changing scene from Southampton’s campus to the office environment here in Cambridge. Moving from education to the workplace is more than just a location change – it’s an entire state of mind change. In education, any task a student is assigned to do has already been done and proven to work. A great example of this is a project I had to do in my first year, we had to construct a traffic light controller out of logic gates, something that has been done thousands of times before and will, no doubt, be done a thousand times more. Whereas here the projects have not been done before, we’re paving a new path and there’s no mark scheme to follow! It’s exciting stuff.

Now that I have you sold on the idea of internships, your next question is, no doubt, why Plextek? As a consulting firm, a huge range of different projects are worked on here, utilising all sorts of technology for clients in multiple market sectors. From highly accurate radars, capable of picking up a person walking two kilometres away, to sensors that detect if a car is present in a parking bay or not, the work here is hugely diverse and interesting. Over my three years, I’ve worked on all sorts of interesting projects, doing things such as developing a controller for a scanning device to developing a computer vision system; I even spent some time redecorating the office ceiling with QR codes!

I would be lying if I were to say that I only come here for the projects. This company has an amazingly friendly and welcoming atmosphere, everyone is more than happy to spare some time to talk about the projects they’re working on and to offer helpful advice on the projects you’re working on. It’s this supportive and friendly community I love and look forward to entering when my time at university ends.

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Virtual Reality: What’s Science Fiction and Science Fact?

Virtual Reality: What’s Science Fiction and Science Fact?

Chris Lancaster - Graduate Software Engineer

By: Chris Lancaster
Graduate Software Engineer

7th June 2017

Home » Engineer

When the term ‘Virtual Reality (VR)’ is brought up, it instantly conjures the picture of a person being placed inside a Computer Generated Image (CGI) environment and them interacting with their newly simulated surroundings. Science fiction has used the concept numerous times to craft this far-fetched idea of what technology can do, but is it really beyond our grasp?

Like all technology, it goes through a lifecycle. At first, some new discovery is made and it seems like it could solve all the world’s problems. As news of such a discovery spreads, expectations grow beyond what is currently possible. In the ‘Technology Hype Cycle’, when expectations are at their highest, it is known as the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’. This peak then falls away as people move on with their lives, but that doesn’t mean the technology fades as well.

In fact, it can be quite the opposite, as it is being continually developed and refined over and over again, each time creating new possibilities and applications. Over time, more realistic expectations begin to grow. That’s where virtual reality now sits, on the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’, ready to be put to use in the real world.

The problem isn’t technology, the technology is already here. A simple mobile phone is powerful enough to be able to render an environment in which we can look around and move. Google Cardboard is a cheap way of allowing anyone to take advantage of the power in their pockets. Simply place your phone in the cardboard case and use the Google Cardboard app to render an environment.  On the other end of the scale, there are more complex headsets, such as HTC’s Vive, which not only gives the user the visual experience but allows them to interact with objects in the VR world through the use of controllers.

So if it’s that easy to experience VR, why doesn’t everyone use it?

We have the technology, what we’re lacking is content which the technology can use. It’s a problem that will be solved with time, once content creators understand what can be done with such technology. Currently, the leading market for VR is gaming but what if it could be used for training purposes?

Time Shift Reality

If VR is a CGI environment, then ‘time shift reality’ is the idea of placing someone in another part of the world and in a different time through 360˚ videos /pictures. What you see does actually exist and you can experience it from the comfort of your own home. Take this video for example:

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Footage owned by DiscoveryVR

I can take a gondola ride through Venice and choose where I want to look as if I was actually there. While this example is one of the more relaxing VR experiences, the educational implications are staggering.

Medical Realities is a VR/AR company specialising in medical training videos that puts the viewer inside the operating theatre, overseeing an operation through the eyes of the consultant surgeon. Placing someone within such a procedure is an invaluable experience, yet now it can be re-lived again and again. Each time a different focus can be taken, giving any medical student a complete overview of the inner workings of an operating theatre.

A different industry is real estate, Matterport is a company that builds 3D reconstructions of buildings – creating a “dollhouse” which a user can tour and move around in. It is not a virtual tour, as in a slideshow of images, but one which can be moved through and looked at from multiple different angles. Think Google Street View but for a house. This lets retailers show off their houses to a wider audience and give them the same experience as if they were actually there.

VR is on the up and up, with a prediction that the virtual reality market will be worth $120 billion by 2020. It is certainly an area that you should keep your eye on.

Apple has been doing so with their latest iPhone 7 Plus. Their newest device has a dual rear-facing camera setup. I can only speculate that there isn’t really any need for two cameras unless you want to be able to detect depth – a key requirement for augmented reality (AR).

This combined with the fact that Apple bought leading AR company, Metaio, in 2015 suggests that they’re looking to move into the VR/AR market in the near future. Metaio has also been suspiciously quiet on what they have been working on recently.

VR’s potential is large and far-reaching. Once the content issue is solved, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in classrooms and homes, in much the same way we already have computers in most aspects of our lives. So maybe one day we can all have our own Star Trek Holodeck.

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When the term ‘Virtual Reality (VR)’ is brought up, it instantly conjures the picture of a person being placed inside a Computer Generated Image (CGI) environment and them interacting with their newly simulated surroundings. Science fiction has used the concept numerous times to craft this far-fetched idea of what technology can do, but is it really beyond our grasp?

Like all technology, it goes through a lifecycle. At first, some new discovery is made and it seems like it could solve all the world’s problems. As news of such a discovery spreads, expectations grow beyond what is currently possible. In the ‘Technology Hype Cycle’, when expectations are at their highest, it is known as the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’. This peak then falls away as people move on with their lives, but that doesn’t mean the technology fades as well.

In fact, it can be quite the opposite, as it is being continually developed and refined over and over again, each time creating new possibilities and applications. Over time, more realistic expectations begin to grow. That’s where virtual reality now sits, on the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’, ready to be put to use in the real world.

The problem isn’t technology, the technology is already here. A simple mobile phone is powerful enough to be able to render an environment in which we can look around and move. Google Cardboard is a cheap way of allowing anyone to take advantage of the power in their pockets. Simply place your phone in the cardboard case and use the Google Cardboard app to render an environment.  On the other end of the scale, there are more complex headsets, such as HTC’s Vive, which not only gives the user the visual experience but allows them to interact with objects in the VR world through the use of controllers.

So if it’s that easy to experience VR, why doesn’t everyone use it?

We have the technology, what we’re lacking is content which the technology can use. It’s a problem that will be solved with time, once content creators understand what can be done with such technology. Currently, the leading market for VR is gaming but what if it could be used for training purposes?

Time Shift Reality

If VR is a CGI environment, then ‘time shift reality’ is the idea of placing someone in another part of the world and in a different time through 360˚ videos /pictures. What you see does actually exist and you can experience it from the comfort of your own home. Take this video for example:

Save

Save

Save

Footage owned by DiscoveryVR

I can take a gondola ride through Venice and choose where I want to look as if I was actually there. While this example is one of the more relaxing VR experiences, the educational implications are staggering.

Medical Realities is a VR/AR company specialising in medical training videos that puts the viewer inside the operating theatre, overseeing an operation through the eyes of the consultant surgeon. Placing someone within such a procedure is an invaluable experience, yet now it can be re-lived again and again. Each time a different focus can be taken, giving any medical student a complete overview of the inner workings of an operating theatre.

A different industry is real estate, Matterport is a company that builds 3D reconstructions of buildings – creating a “dollhouse” which a user can tour and move around in. It is not a virtual tour, as in a slideshow of images, but one which can be moved through and looked at from multiple different angles. Think Google Street View but for a house. This lets retailers show off their houses to a wider audience and give them the same experience as if they were actually there.

VR is on the up and up, with a prediction that the virtual reality market will be worth $120 billion by 2020. It is certainly an area that you should keep your eye on.

Apple has been doing so with their latest iPhone 7 Plus. Their newest device has a dual rear-facing camera setup. I can only speculate that there isn’t really any need for two cameras unless you want to be able to detect depth – a key requirement for augmented reality (AR).

This combined with the fact that Apple bought leading AR company, Metaio, in 2015 suggests that they’re looking to move into the VR/AR market in the near future. Metaio has also been suspiciously quiet on what they have been working on recently.

VR’s potential is large and far-reaching. Once the content issue is solved, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in classrooms and homes, in much the same way we already have computers in most aspects of our lives. So maybe one day we can all have our own Star Trek Holodeck.

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An insight from a Graduate Engineer

An insight from a Graduate Engineer

Edson Da'Silva - Graduate Engineer, Communication Systems

By: Edson Da’Silva
Graduate Engineer, Communication Systems

31st May 2017

Home » Engineer

I’m Edson Da’Silva and I’m a graduate engineer here at Plextek. I joined the company in September 2016 and it’s been a fantastic start to working life. I’ve met so many great people and I’ve been working on a good number of interesting projects, which have been beyond what I ever expected to do. So here is my view of a working day as a graduate at Plextek.

As with every engineer, my day starts with coffee (it appears we can’t function without it), then once the caffeine has kicked in I prioritise my day’s work; due to the demands of a consultancy, prioritisation changes day to day so it’s important to refocus this daily.

An insight from a Graduate Engineer - Edson Da'SilvaOn a normal week, I can be doing anything from assisting clients with technical enquiries, to co-writing project proposals and typing up any relevant documents. I’m involved in many aspects of Plextek’s client service, which I really enjoy; however, a majority of my work is hardware design and testing. Occasionally, I get involved with software design and mechanical prototyping as well. It’s great to get involved in so many aspects, as I get to experience other areas of product development, which I ordinarily wouldn’t be exposed to.

The starting point for most hardware designs is a simulation. This might include testing and simulating the frequency response of a circuit. As for the circuit design, I am responsible for putting together the schematic diagram of the circuit, which gets passed over to the PCB team for the layout and manufacturing.

Depending on the nature of the project, I occasionally get involved with some aspects of mechanical prototyping. For example, the project may have a PCB that will be exposed to extreme weather conditions and will require a protective enclosure for it. My role would be to conduct some testing of materials in the lab and pull a concept together for testing purposes. Once we have proven that the concept is suitable and the whole system works well in the enclosure, I work with the mechanical design team to fully implement it into the product so that it is ready for manufacture.

Sometimes software is required to test the functionality of a hardware design, and I occasionally get to write it myself, which enables me to gain further experience and grow my skillset. While I haven’t done much software design yet, packages, such as “Visual Studios”, are very powerful and flexible, allowing for small test programmes as well as large software packages to be built using the same tools.

At any given moment, the projects I work on can focus on a wide variety of different tasks. On a busy day, I can be working on up to three completely different projects. Whilst that can be challenging at times, since joining Plextek, I have improved my ability to effectively distribute my time between projects. I also enjoy switching between projects and tasks, as it gives me some time to pull away from a problem and come back to it later with a different approach.

An insight from a Graduate Engineer - EdsonAn integral part of being a Graduate Engineer at Plextek is the internal engineering training program. The in-house training scheme incorporates teachings from Plextek’s most experienced members and practical tasks that look to provide training across all areas of the business. So in between project work and other tasks, I try to get on with some of those activities too.

Because the work can be so varied, it is not uncommon for me to come across a piece of technology I am not familiar with. In my mind, it’s all part of the learning curve and I often do my own research when I get home so I can learn a little more about the subject area. An important aspect of being an Electronics Engineer is to continuously progress and learn as technology evolves.

What I enjoy most about being a Graduate Engineer at Plextek is that since joining, every single project I have worked on has been fascinating. The variety of the work, and the challenge of climbing a new learning curve with every new project, makes every day an exciting prospective. A big part of being a graduate engineer is the creative way in which you tackle a hardware, software or mechanical problem. I will often work as part of a team, so we can bounce ideas off each other and come up with inventive ways to solve a problem or design a prototype for example, and although it can be challenging at times, it is always a rewarding experience.


Keep an eye on our careers page for Graduate Career opportunities

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I’m Edson Da’Silva and I’m a graduate engineer here at Plextek. I joined the company in September 2016 and it’s been a fantastic start to working life. I’ve met so many great people and I’ve been working on a good number of interesting projects, which have been beyond what I ever expected to do. So here is my view of a working day as a graduate at Plextek.

As with every engineer, my day starts with coffee (it appears we can’t function without it), then once the caffeine has kicked in I prioritise my day’s work; due to the demands of a consultancy, prioritisation changes day to day so it’s important to refocus this daily.

An insight from a Graduate Engineer - Edson Da'SilvaOn a normal week, I can be doing anything from assisting clients with technical enquiries, to co-writing project proposals and typing up any relevant documents. I’m involved in many aspects of Plextek’s client service, which I really enjoy; however, a majority of my work is hardware design and testing. Occasionally, I get involved with software design and mechanical prototyping as well. It’s great to get involved in so many aspect,s as I get to experience other areas of product development, which I ordinarily wouldn’t be exposed to.

The starting point for most hardware designs is a simulation. This might include testing and simulating the frequency response of a circuit. As for the circuit design, I am responsible for putting together the schematic diagram of the circuit, which gets passed over to the PCB team for the layout and manufacturing.

Depending on the nature of the project, I occasionally get involved with some aspects of mechanical prototyping. For example, the project may have a PCB that will be exposed to extreme weather conditions and will require a protective enclosure for it. My role would be to conduct some testing of materials in the lab and pull a concept together for testing purposes. Once we have proven that the concept is suitable and the whole system works well in the enclosure, I work with the mechanical design team to fully implement it into the product so that it is ready for manufacture.

Sometimes software is required to test the functionality of a hardware design, and I occasionally get to write it myself, which enables me to gain further experience and grow my skillset. While I haven’t done much software design yet, packages, such as “Visual Studios”, are very powerful and flexible, allowing for small test programmes as well as large software packages to be built using the same tools.

At any given moment, the projects I work on can focus on a wide variety of different tasks. On a busy day, I can be working on up to three completely different projects. Whilst that can be challenging at times, since joining Plextek, I have improved my ability to effectively distribute my time between projects. I also enjoy switching between projects and tasks, as it gives me some time to pull away from a problem and come back to it later with a different approach.

An insight from a Graduate Engineer - EdsonAn integral part of being a Graduate Engineer at Plextek is the internal engineering training program. The in-house training scheme incorporates teachings from Plextek’s most experienced members and practical tasks that look to provide training across all areas of the business. So in between project work and other tasks, I try to get on with some of those activities too.

Because the work can be so varied, it is not uncommon for me to come across a piece of technology I am not familiar with. In my mind, it’s all part of the learning curve and I often do my own research when I get home so I can learn a little more about the subject area. An important aspect of being an Electronics Engineer is to continuously progress and learn as technology evolves.

What I enjoy most about being a Graduate Engineer at Plextek is that since joining, every single project I have worked on has been fascinating. The variety of the work, and the challenge of climbing a new learning curve with every new project, makes every day an exciting prospective. A big part of being a graduate engineer is the creative way in which you tackle a hardware, software or mechanical problem. I will often work as part of a team, so we can bounce ideas off each other and come up with inventive ways to solve a problem or design a prototype for example, and although it can be challenging at times, it is always a rewarding experience.


Keep an eye on our careers page for Graduate Career opportunities

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