Could Radar Be a More Cost-Effective Security Screening Alternative to X-Rays?

By: Damien Clarke
Lead Consultant

10th October 2019

5 minute read

Home » MM-wave

A key task in the security market is the detection of concealed threats, such as guns, knives and explosives. While explosives can be detected by their chemical constituents the other threats are defined by their shape. A threat detection system must, therefore, be able to produce an image of an object behind an opaque barrier.

X-rays are probably the most commonly known technology for achieving this and they are widely used for both security and medical applications. However, while they produce high-quality images, x-ray machines are not cheap and there are health concerns with their frequent use on or in the vicinity of people.

An alternative to x-rays often used at airports for full-body screening are microwave imaging systems. These allow the detection of concealed objects through clothes though the spatial resolution is relatively low and objects are often indistinguishable (hence the requirement for a manual search). The ability to detect and identify concealed items can, therefore, be improved by using a high-frequency mm-wave (60 GHz) system.

Plextek has investigated this approach through the use of a Texas Instruments IWR6843 60 – 64 GHz mm-wave radar which is a relatively inexpensive consumer component that could be customised to suit many applications. However, a single radar measurement only contains range information and not angle information. It is, therefore, necessary to collect multiple measurements of an object from different viewpoints to form an image. This is achieved through the use of a custom 2D translation stage that enables the radar to be automatically moved to any point in space relative to the target object. In this example, radar data was collected across a regular grid of 2D locations with millimetre spacing between measurements.

This large set of radar measurements can then be processed to form an image. This is achieved by analysing the small variations in the signal caused by the change in viewpoint when the object is measured from different positions. The set of range only measurements is then extended to include azimuth and elevation as well. In effect, this process produces a 3D cube of intensity values defining the radar reflectivity at each point in space. A slice through this cube at a range corresponding to the position of the box allows an image to be formed of an object that is behind an (optically) opaque surface.

In this case, a cardboard box containing a fake gun was used as the target object. Clearly, a visual inspection of this box would not reveal the contents, however, 60 GHz mm-waves can penetrate cardboard and therefore an image of the concealed object can be produced. In this case, the resulting image of the contents of the box clearly shows the shape of the concealed gun.

This example simulates the detection of a gun being sent through the post and automatic image analysis algorithms would presumably be capable of flagging this box for further inspection. This would remove the need for human involvement in the screening process for each parcel.

A more mature sensor system using this approach could be produced that did not require the manual scanning process but used an array of antenna instead. It would also be possible to produce similar custom systems that were optimised for different target sets and applications.

 

Acknowledgement

This work was performed by Ivan Saunders during his time as a Summer student at Plextek before completing his MPhys at the University of Exeter.

A key task in the security market is the detection of concealed threats, such as guns, knives and explosives. While explosives can be detected by their chemical constituents the other threats are defined by their shape. A threat detection system must, therefore, be able to produce an image of an object behind an opaque barrier.

X-rays are probably the most commonly known technology for achieving this and they are widely used for both security and medical applications. However, while they produce high-quality images, x-ray machines are not cheap and there are health concerns with their frequent use on or in the vicinity of people.

An alternative to x-rays often used at airports for full-body screening are microwave imaging systems. These allow the detection of concealed objects through clothes though the spatial resolution is relatively low and objects are often indistinguishable (hence the requirement for a manual search). The ability to detect and identify concealed items can, therefore, be improved by using a high-frequency mm-wave (60 GHz) system.

Plextek has investigated this approach through the use of a Texas Instruments IWR6843 60 – 64 GHz mm-wave radar which is a relatively inexpensive consumer component that could be customised to suit many applications. However, a single radar measurement only contains range information and not angle information. It is, therefore, necessary to collect multiple measurements of an object from different viewpoints to form an image. This is achieved through the use of a custom 2D translation stage that enables the radar to be automatically moved to any point in space relative to the target object. In this example, radar data was collected across a regular grid of 2D locations with millimetre spacing between measurements.

This large set of radar measurements can then be processed to form an image. This is achieved by analysing the small variations in the signal caused by the change in viewpoint when the object is measured from different positions. The set of range only measurements is then extended to include azimuth and elevation as well. In effect, this process produces a 3D cube of intensity values defining the radar reflectivity at each point in space. A slice through this cube at a range corresponding to the position of the box allows an image to be formed of an object that is behind an (optically) opaque surface.

In this case, a cardboard box containing a fake gun was used as the target object. Clearly, a visual inspection of this box would not reveal the contents, however, 60 GHz mm-waves can penetrate cardboard and therefore an image of the concealed object can be produced. In this case, the resulting image of the contents of the box clearly shows the shape of the concealed gun.

This example simulates the detection of a gun being sent through the post and automatic image analysis algorithms would presumably be capable of flagging this box for further inspection. This would remove the need for human involvement in the screening process for each parcel.

A more mature sensor system using this approach could be produced that did not require the manual scanning process but used an array of antenna instead. It would also be possible to produce similar custom systems that were optimised for different target sets and applications.

Acknowledgement

This work was performed by Ivan Saunders during his time as a Summer student at Plextek before completing his MPhys at the University of Exeter.

Further Reading

Single Chip MM-Wave Radar

Damien Clarke - Senior Consultant, Data Exploitation

By: Damien Clarke
Lead Consultant

25th April 2019

4 minute read

Home » MM-wave

Recent advances in radar technology have led to the production of a range of inexpensive highly integrated single chip millimetre-wave radar sensors by Texas Instruments. These chips implement a Frequency Modulated Continuous-Wave (FMCW) radar operating at either 76 – 81 GHz or 60 – 64 GHz. This provides sufficient bandwidth to produce a range resolution of a few centimetres at the same time as measuring object velocities via Doppler shift. In addition, through the use of multiple transmitters and receivers Multiple-Input and Multiple-Output (MIMO) techniques can be used to measure the angular position of an object. With a suitable 2D antenna array it is possible to simultaneously measure both azimuth and elevation angles.

The processing power necessary to calculate the range, velocity and angles to multiple targets is also present within the chips. In the IWR6843, for example, this is achieved via a C674x DSP, an FFT hardware accelerator and an ARM R4F Microcontroller. This also enables the ability to perform object tracking within the chip. A single inexpensive chip can therefore continuously output a point cloud (object ID, range, azimuth, elevation and radial velocity) of multiple unique objects present in the scene.

A common application for such radar sensors is the detection of moving vehicles at a distance. The video below shows an example of two cars driving towards and then away from a radar placed above the road. Raw data is extracted from the chip and processed to emulate what would normally occur within the chip. The left hand chart shows a Range-Doppler map where the two vehicles are clearly detected at all ranges. All static objects have been removed from this image to more clearly reveal moving objects. The central plot shows those range-Doppler cells which are determined to contain non-background objects (i.e. cars). The right hand plot then calculates the 2D position (in metres) of the two cars. Note that a car will produce multiple radar echoes (i.e. radiator, wing mirror, tires, number plate, etc) at different ranges and therefore a cluster of detected points are produced from each car.

The ability of such a sensor to directly output a processed point cloud enables a wide range of possible applications at a low cost. These include the following:

    • Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS)

 

    • Autonomous ground vehicles

 

    • Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV)

 

    • Traffic monitoring

 

    • Pedestrian and people counting

 

    • Intruder detection

 

    • Vital signs detection

 

    • Gesture recognition

 

    • Fluid level sensing

 

Creating a new product using a Texas Instruments mm-wave radar chip requires development in several areas. Firstly, as with all FMCW radar it is necessary to understand what radar configuration to use to achieve the desired data output parameters, i.e. range resolution, max range, velocity resolution, etc. It is also necessary to modify the processing chain implemented on the chip to optimise the performance. Hardware changes will also be required, in particular the design and manufacture of a suitable mm-wave antenna array is of key importance. This will have several effects, but commonly this is used to increase the maximum detection range. Finally, it is also necessary to produce an electronics design for the additional components which must be integrated with the radar chip to create a final product.

Recent advances in radar technology have led to the production of a range of inexpensive highly integrated single chip millimetre-wave radar sensors by Texas Instruments. These chips implement a Frequency Modulated Continuous-Wave (FMCW) radar operating at either 76 – 81 GHz or 60 – 64 GHz. This provides sufficient bandwidth to produce a range resolution of a few centimetres at the same time as measuring object velocities via Doppler shift. In addition, through the use of multiple transmitters and receivers Multiple-Input and Multiple-Output (MIMO) techniques can be used to measure the angular position of an object. With a suitable 2D antenna array it is possible to simultaneously measure both azimuth and elevation angles.

The processing power necessary to calculate the range, velocity and angles to multiple targets is also present within the chips. In the IWR6843, for example, this is achieved via a C674x DSP, an FFT hardware accelerator and an ARM R4F Microcontroller. This also enables the ability to perform object tracking within the chip. A single inexpensive chip can therefore continuously output a point cloud (object ID, range, azimuth, elevation and radial velocity) of multiple unique objects present in the scene.

A common application for such radar sensors is the detection of moving vehicles at a distance. The video below shows an example of two cars driving towards and then away from a radar placed above the road. Raw data is extracted from the chip and processed to emulate what would normally occur within the chip. The left hand chart shows a Range-Doppler map where the two vehicles are clearly detected at all ranges. All static objects have been removed from this image to more clearly reveal moving objects. The central plot shows those range-Doppler cells which are determined to contain non-background objects (i.e. cars). The right hand plot then calculates the 2D position (in metres) of the two cars. Note that a car will produce multiple radar echoes (i.e. radiator, wing mirror, tires, number plate, etc) at different ranges and therefore a cluster of detected points are produced from each car.

The ability of such a sensor to directly output a processed point cloud enables a wide range of possible applications at a low cost. These include the following:

    • Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS)

 

    • Autonomous ground vehicles

 

    • Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV)

 

    • Traffic monitoring

 

    • Pedestrian and people counting

 

    • Intruder detection

 

    • Vital signs detection

 

    • Gesture recognition

 

    • Fluid level sensing

 

Creating a new product using a Texas Instruments mm-wave radar chip requires development in several areas. Firstly, as with all FMCW radar it is necessary to understand what radar configuration to use to achieve the desired data output parameters, i.e. range resolution, max range, velocity resolution, etc. It is also necessary to modify the processing chain implemented on the chip to optimise the performance. Hardware changes will also be required, in particular the design and manufacture of a suitable mm-wave antenna array is of key importance. This will have several effects, but commonly this is used to increase the maximum detection range. Finally, it is also necessary to produce an electronics design for the additional components which must be integrated with the radar chip to create a final product.

Further Reading

EW BrightSpark, James Henderson One Year On

James Henderson - Consultant, Antennas & Propagation

By: James Henderson
Consultant, Antennas & Propagation

27th February 2019

Home » MM-wave

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.”

 

 

Further Reading

Foreign Object Detection Clears Runway For mm-Wave

By: Clem Robertson
Programme Manager

19th September 2018

Home » MM-wave

I find myself writing about an acronym that many people have never heard about but in certain safety-critical environments, particularly airports, it is an acronym that rings alarm bells.

Foreign Object Debris (FOD) on runways and taxiways causes a risk to passenger safety and costs airlines and air forces £millions each year from the damage to aircraft. The most notorious incident was the Paris Concorde accident in 2000 where a piece of metalwork fell of a DC10 upon take-off which minutes later punctured the tyre of the Air France Concorde causing it to crash in a field shortly after take-off. Threats from FOD can consist of anything from metalwork, tools, nuts and bolts, stones and wildlife where early detection of the presence of the item is paramount. In this blog I wish to talk about how Plextek is leading the way to deliver a cost effective and scalable solution which will meet the needs of airports around the world.

The conventional method for detecting FOD still employed by many commercial and military airports involves a periodic visual inspection of the runway either by a vehicle following an aircraft after it takes off or lands or by daily FOD walking exercises where a team walks in a line across the runway detecting and collecting FOD as they go. There are a number of commercially available solutions that are able to detect FOD on a runway but are often very expensive to deploy and have their weaknesses depending on the adopted technology.

 

Our revolutionary Millimetre-Wave Radar is particularly exciting.

In partnership with a South Korean partner, Plextek has been developing two market-leading radar solutions that provide a cost-effective, scalable platform for countering the FOD threat.

Utilising our expertise in antenna and radar systems design coupled with product design, embedded hardware, software and manufacturing expertise, the Plextek FOD radar solution utilises state of the art materials and mm-wave technology to provide a versatile cost-effective radar capable of detecting, discriminating and alerting the presence of a M5 nut and bolt (2cm object) to sub 10cm resolution at ranges of greater than 400m. When combined with our partner’s EO/IR and FOD detection command and control interface, the radar is capable of alerting the operator of new FOD within 1 minute of the FOD occurring.

So what is Innovative about the Plextek FOD radar solution?

Plextek has developed a common radar platform which can be deployed in either a stationary or mobile configuration.

The stationary radar setup is primarily aimed at high traffic airfield applications like commercial airfields where 24 hour, real-time and continuous surveillance for FOD is paramount to the safety and operational efficiency of the airport. Multiple stationary radar sensors along with EO/IR sensors are installed on towers down the side of the runway. Each stationary radar scans a portion of the runway looking in real-time for changes in the environment.


The mobile radar setup is designed to be installed on the top of a vehicle and driven down the runway between aircraft take-off and landings. The mobile radar sensor replaces the need for the person in the vehicle to detect FOD by visual inspections alone. This radar option is targeted at lower traffic airports like domestic airfields and military airports where there is not a need for 24h constant FOD surveillance or the necessary investment to install a stationary FOD setup.


Both Plextek FOD variants are presently performing extremely well on field trials in South Korea. Plextek is on schedule to start commercial field trials of both radar variants at Incheon International airport in Q1 2019 with both radars entering full operational service by 2020.

For me, it has been a pleasure to project manage such a groundbreaking piece of technology and I am excited to see the radar in operation at Incheon airport in the near future.

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I find myself writing about an acronym that many people have never heard about but in certain safety-critical environments, particularly airports, it is an acronym that rings alarm bells.

Foreign Object Debris (FOD) on runways and taxiways causes a risk to passenger safety and costs airlines and air forces £millions each year from the damage to aircraft. The most notorious incident was the Paris Concorde accident in 2000 where a piece of metalwork fell of a DC10 upon take-off which minutes later punctured the tyre of the Air France Concorde causing it to crash in a field shortly after take-off. Threats from FOD can consist of anything from metalwork, tools, nuts and bolts, stones and wildlife where early detection of the presence of the item is paramount. In this blog I wish to talk about how Plextek is leading the way to deliver a cost effective and scalable solution which will meet the needs of airports around the world.

The conventional method for detecting FOD still employed by many commercial and military airports involves a periodic visual inspection of the runway either by a vehicle following an aircraft after it takes off or lands or by daily FOD walking exercises where a team walks in a line across the runway detecting and collecting FOD as they go. There are a number of commercially available solutions that are able to detect FOD on a runway but are often very expensive to deploy and have their weaknesses depending on the adopted technology.

 

Our revolutionary Millimetre-Wave Radar is particularly exciting.

In partnership with a South Korean consortium, Plextek has been developing two market-leading radar solutions that provide a cost-effective, scalable platform for countering the FOD threat.

Utilising our expertise in antenna and radar systems design coupled with product design, embedded hardware, software and manufacturing expertise, the Plextek FOD radar solution utilises state of the art materials and mm-wave technology to provide a versatile cost-effective radar capable of detecting, discriminating and alerting the presence of a M5 nut and bolt (2cm object) to sub 10cm resolution at ranges of greater than 400m. When combined with our partner’s EO/IR and FOD detection command and control interface, the radar is capable of alerting the operator of new FOD within 1 minute of the FOD occurring.

So what is Innovative about the Plextek FOD radar solution?

Plextek has developed a common radar platform which can be deployed in either a stationary or mobile configuration.

The stationary radar setup is primarily aimed at high traffic airfield applications like commercial airfields where 24 hour, real-time and continuous surveillance for FOD is paramount to the safety and operational efficiency of the airport. Multiple stationary radar sensors along with EO/IR sensors are installed on towers down the side of the runway. Each stationary radar scans a portion of the runway looking in real-time for changes in the environment.


The mobile radar setup is designed to be installed on the top of a vehicle and driven down the runway between aircraft take-off and landings. The mobile radar sensor replaces the need for the person in the vehicle to detect FOD by visual inspections alone. This radar option is targeted at lower traffic airports like domestic airfields and military airports where there is not a need for 24h constant FOD surveillance or the necessary investment to install a stationary FOD setup.


Both Plextek FOD variants are presently performing extremely well on field trials in South Korea. Plextek is on schedule to start commercial field trials of both radar variants at Incheon International airport in Q1 2019 with both radars entering full operational service by 2020.

For me, it has been a pleasure to project manage such a groundbreaking piece of technology and I am excited to see the radar in operation at Incheon airport in the near future.

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Further Reading

What I Did This Summer

By: Kevin Jones
Senior Consultant, Embedded Systems

22nd August 2018

Home » MM-wave

The title might lead you to believe this blog is about a holiday to some far away sunny paradise. That post will have to wait for another day; instead, this article is about my recent experiences working with students.

The Next Generation

Plextek has always invested time in energising the next generation of engineers. Each year we employ undergraduate engineering students who join the consultancy for a summer placement that typically lasts twelve weeks. One of this year’s undergraduates worked with Plextek’s software group and I was offered the opportunity to oversee his placement. He was tasked with investigating a novel method to count moving vehicles in real time using audio signals. His work in this project has been successful and is still being used as a technology and capability demonstrator.

Work Experience

This summer Plextek also invited two sixth form students to join us for a work experience week. They spent time with staff from various departments to gain an overview of how the many roles collaborate to form a successful consultancy. This included one day spent with me giving them the opportunity to learn about embedded software and software development processes.

The world has moved on since I was at sixth form so I found myself contemplating the best method to introduce these younger students to my professional world. In the end, I settled on using two identical Arduino development boards, two prototyping boards (“breadboards”), a handful of resistors/LEDs/switches and a couple of laptops.

We started the session discussing the simple inputs and outputs that can be implemented with these basic components then moved on to illuminating LEDs, flashing LEDs and using the switches to control the LEDs. Along the way, we covered coding standards, static analysis tools, documentation tools, integer storage size and how microprocessors represent whole negative numbers.

After lunch, we completed a short consultancy exercise starting from requirements through to implementation, bug fixing, testing, requirements clarification and enhancement proposals. The sixth formers covered a lot of ground in one day and I hope they found at least some of it rewarding!

Professional Development

Yet the undergraduate and the sixth form students weren’t the only people to learn from their placements. Plextek is committed to personal and professional staff development and there were plenty of new skills that I either learned or improved upon too.

From a personal point of view, I learned many new soft-management skills such as leadership, mentorship and communication to a different demographic. From a professional point of view, I hope I passed on plenty of useful tips that will help them flourish in their future careers. I’m rarely in a teaching role and this summer has helped me to better understand and appreciate the great work undertaken by all teachers preparing young adults for their future careers. Who knows; maybe some of the summer placement students might opt for the same path I chose and become a chartered engineer.

Kevin joined Plextek in 2008 and first worked on 3G telecommunications projects. He is a Chartered Engineer and is a member of the Institute of Engineering Technology. His recent projects include AIMS (the embedded software and the Android application) and a variety of high volume, low-cost consumer devices.

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The title might lead you to believe this blog is about a holiday to some far away sunny paradise. That post will have to wait for another day; instead, this article is about my recent experiences working with students.

The Next Generation

Plextek has always invested time in energising the next generation of engineers. Each year we employ undergraduate engineering students who join the consultancy for a summer placement that typically lasts twelve weeks. One of this year’s undergraduates worked with Plextek’s software group and I was offered the opportunity to oversee his placement. He was tasked with investigating a novel method to count moving vehicles in real time using audio signals. His work in this project has been successful and is still being used as a technology and capability demonstrator.

Work Experience

This summer Plextek also invited two sixth form students to join us for a work experience week. They spent time with staff from various departments to gain an overview of how the many roles collaborate to form a successful consultancy. This included one day spent with me giving them the opportunity to learn about embedded software and software development processes.

The world has moved on since I was at sixth form so I found myself contemplating the best method to introduce these younger students to my professional world. In the end, I settled on using two identical Arduino development boards, two prototyping boards (“breadboards”), a handful of resistors/LEDs/switches and a couple of laptops.

We started the session discussing the simple inputs and outputs that can be implemented with these basic components then moved on to illuminating LEDs, flashing LEDs and using the switches to control the LEDs. Along the way, we covered coding standards, static analysis tools, documentation tools, integer storage size and how microprocessors represent whole negative numbers.

After lunch, we completed a short consultancy exercise starting from requirements through to implementation, bug fixing, testing, requirements clarification and enhancement proposals. The sixth formers covered a lot of ground in one day and I hope they found at least some of it rewarding!

Professional Development

Yet the undergraduate and the sixth form students weren’t the only people to learn from their placements. Plextek is committed to personal and professional staff development and there were plenty of new skills that I either learned or improved upon too.

From a personal point of view, I learned many new soft-management skills such as leadership, mentorship and communication to a different demographic. From a professional point of view, I hope I passed on plenty of useful tips that will help them flourish in their future careers. I’m rarely in a teaching role and this summer has helped me to better understand and appreciate the great work undertaken by all teachers preparing young adults for their future careers. Who knows; maybe some of the summer placement students might opt for the same path I chose and become a chartered engineer.

Kevin joined Plextek in 2008 and first worked on 3G telecommunications projects. He is a Chartered Engineer and is a member of the Institute of Engineering Technology. His recent projects include AIMS (the embedded software and the Android application) and a variety of high volume, low-cost consumer devices.

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Further Reading