Zircon’s Real-Time Data Server Solution Helps Client Pinpoint Structural Concerns

Zircon’s Real-Time Data Server Solution Helps Client Pinpoint Structural Concerns

Zircon’s Real-Time Data Server Solution Helps Client Pinpoint Structural Concerns

Operating Systems: Linux
Languages: Javascript, Python
Methodologies: Agile, SCRUM
Frameworks: Django
Technologies: AJAX
Databases: Postgres
Zircon’s client is a world leader in the development of monitoring solutions, which include load, strain and stress measurement technologies. In preparation for a couple of future contracts our client approached Zircon to develop a real-time data server, which would collect data from a number of sensors to establish the condition of the structures being monitored.

This real-time server was to be an integral part of one of our client’s monitoring solutions; however they did not have access to the required skill resources to complete the development in house.

A key requirement was for the software to be able to support the introduction of additional sensors from a number of different suppliers and of different types.

Zircon developed a tailored, web based, real-time data server that successfully gathers data from the client’s sensors. The data is initially stored in its raw state and then put through a series of, customisable, threshold checks. When a breach is detected then either alarms are triggered and/or the data sample rate altered.

Data is presented to the end user via a web front end and the system allows an engineer to transform the gathered data into a variety of easy to read formats, such as graphs, in order to pinpoint any patterns or continuous periods of excessive stress in the data. This process allows our client’s engineers to focus their efforts on the most relevant areas. The software also allows for both event logging and user management from a single access point.

For this project an agile development methodology was agreed and a Scrum method, consisting of a mix of four and two-week Sprint cycles, employed. This enabled Zircon to be flexible in when functionality was developed and enabled the client to provide continuous feedback and introduce and modify requirements throughout the life of the project.

Zircon once again worked closely with our client to ensure that the software met the client’s expectations, with special attention given to ensuring compatibility and the ability to integrate new sensors. The system has been successfully deployed and Zircon has provided additional support to enhance the software further.

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Zircon Assists Synoptix Ltd with Object Detection Feasibility Study

Zircon Assists Synoptix Ltd with Object Detection Feasibility Study

Zircon assists Synoptix Ltd with a feasibility study to detect objects within video footage and images.

Operating Systems: Windows
Languages: Python
Other: Blob Detection,  Casscade Classifier,  Colour Comparison,  Contour Matching,  Edge Detection,
Histogram Of Oriented Gradients,  Image Comparison,  Sliding Windows,  Subcomponent Classifier,  SURF Descriptors

 

In the past much of our work has been on projects related to the transport industry. What’s more, we usually have a pretty clear idea what the solution is going to look like. But that’s not always the case. We recently completed a project related to defence and security (we can’t tell you much more than that as…well, we just can’t!). And although the requirements were clearly defined the end goal was merely to test the feasibility of an idea and outline the most promising ways forward.
Background To The Project

Our immediate client was Synoptix Ltd, a provider of bespoke, high level Systems and Safety Engineering solutions for a wide range of different industrial sectors. They were working on a project for the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), the centre of scientific excellence for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD). Its stated aim is “to maximise the impact of science and technology for the defence and security of the UK.”

Synoptix was collaborating with DSTL in a project that involved the development of object detection software. As Synoptix had no in-house software capability they were looking to partner with a suitable third party.

The Head of Sales for Synoptix was familiar with Zircon and knew we had recently been working on a project with similarities to DSTL’s requirements but within the rail industry environment. So we were asked to submit a proposal, which was accepted.

“I’d definitely endorse them with regard to their quality of communication, the quality of documentation they produced.”

Ben Durant

Operations Manager, Synoptix

The Challenge

The general idea, in layman’s terms, was to get a better understanding of how far one could go in developing an effective object detection solution using Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) software and libraries. The task was to see how difficult it would be to get a conceptual solution through to Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 3 via the development of algorithms on an open-source image processing platform.

More specifically, the software had to be capable of detecting the presence of specific pre-determined objects within a digital image (either a still photograph or the individual frame of a video). The program had to be capable of picking out the shape of an object from whatever else was going on around it, in a variety of different conditions and with a range of different image formats. What’s more, with video footage it had to be capable of tracking the shape through multiple frames. Being even more specific the system was required to:

  • Recognise objects by referring to still images stored in the system
  • Categorise objects detected
  • Sub-categories objects where possible
  • Perform recognition on video stream shot at any viewing angle; any compression; any frame rate; any illumination; with any level of clutter; with any confusers or obscuration; and at any viewing range, from 5 to 100 metres
  • Operate in visible spectrum (RGB and grey scale)
  • Track detected objects through scene
  • Create a timestamped list of when objects appear in video

So it was a very tall order!

However, the end deliverable was not a fully functioning, tested and effective system. It was to see how far one could go down that road using COTS software and libraries; then present those findings, alongside Synoptix, to the DSTL.

How Things Progressed

The primary COTS component we proposed was OpenCV, which is a commonly used open source computer vision library. This provided much of the actual algorithmic functionality utilised by the object detection software we developed. Because the project was essentially an R&D exercise we selected Python 2.7.5 as the development language as we find code can be written very quickly in Python. This also meant that the software could easily be ported to C++, and better performance achieved, should a release version be required.

Ben Durant, Operations Manager at Synoptix, explains that it proved a very hard task. “It was very difficult, much more so than the project they had undertaken on the railways. The system had to work under so many different conditions and situations that they were confronted with a variety of awkward challenges.”

“They tackled these in a variety of different ways. They tried doing co-ordinate point detection, but that didn’t work very well. They tried turning those shapes into shadows, that didn’t work very well either. Then they ended up using a couple of filters for image processing, and these were reasonably good at detecting the shapes we were asked to look for. They got it to work at the testing stage, but it was a long way off a finished product.”

“I found Zircon very easy to work with, They were very cooperative, very helpful throughout that process”

Ben Durant

Operations Manager, Synoptix

Conclusion

Ben makes the point that “The key deliverable was not a product that was ready to be deployed. It was the production of a joint report, prepared in partnership between us and them, to outline the lessons learned during the exercise.” He adds that “They were very good at reporting what was going on and keeping us in the loop. This was essential, because the exercise was essentially an information gathering one, so good communication was very important.”

Explaining this point in more detail he comments that “I worked closely with the main developer at Zircon and we had to thoroughly analyse what was going on and where the technical difficulties lay. We had to make a lot of decisions on what findings were most meaningful and how best to frame them for presentation to the MOD.”

He concludes that “I found Zircon very easy to work with. The process involved a lot of discussion and negotiation. They were very cooperative, very helpful throughout that process. I’d definitely endorse them with regard to their quality of communication, the quality of documentation they
produced. In the end we successfully delivered a presentation to the MOD, albeit with limited functionality, that met their specification. It proved to be a very valuable piece of research.”

His final comment was “If we get some further work from the MOD on this I’ll be teaming up with Zircon, no question.”

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Helping our Armed Forces Prepare for Future Conflicts with up to Date Electronic Warfare Software

Helping our Armed Forces Prepare for Future Conflicts with up to Date Electronic Warfare Software

Helping our Armed Forces Prepare for Future Conflicts with up to Date Electronic Warfare Software

Operating Systems: Windows (XP, 7)
Languages: C#.NET, C++
Cobham Aviation Services provides operational readiness training, mission rehearsal and electronic warfare training for military and international armed forces. This involves using complex software to simulate attacks and when Cobham decided that this was nearing the end of its useful life they asked Zircon to update it.
Background To The Project

During the Falkland’s War Exocet missiles inflicted heavy damage on the Royal Navy.  After the conflict there was an obvious need to train naval personnel and pilots in how best to cope with the evolving threats posed by hostile guided missiles.  For many years Cobham Aviation Services has been performing this role for the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and NATO, amongst others.

The company operates a fleet of Falcon 20 jets fitted with a number of pods that create a variety of different effects to recreate hostile environments.  These include radar jamming and threat simulation, communications jamming, false target generation, electronic surveillance, platform location and attitude logging, and height-keeping towed targets with controllable radar cross section.  The Electronic Warfare Officer on the plane controls the system and produces whatever effects are required to stage realistic end-to-end rehearsals of complex and demanding missions.

When the multi-million pound contract was recently renewed for a further 10 years it was decided that the legacy software needed updating.  It was written in Borland C++, a language which was no longer supported.  This meant it was becoming increasingly difficult to further develop the application to allow enhancement of the training schedule.  What’s more the hardware had become dated and was difficult to maintain.  So Cobham felt the need to translate it into a more modern language.

“They were very focused on building a good relationship with us, and pretty driven in terms of accomplishing what was required on schedule.”

Colin Rebettes

Cobham

The Zircon Solution

Colin Rebettes, one of Cobham’s electronic warfare experts, explains that “We’d written the original software ourselves, but that needed translating from an old Borland compiler to an integrated development environment.  We had the capability to do that in-house but our workload meant it was more sensible to outsource it.”

When Cobham started making enquires about a suitable software house to undertake this project Zircon’s name came up.  “We went to their offices,” Colin explains, “had a look around, reviewed their capabilities, and were impressed with the work they’d done in other environments.  Also, the fact that they had BSI ISO9001:2008 (TickIT) accreditation was important to us.”

We were able to port the software over into a current language (C# .NET).  This enabled us to retain much of the core application code.  In the process we also fixed a number of bugs that had either become apparent over time or which we discovered once we set to work.  This approach was much more cost effective than a complete re-write and has successfully extended the life of this legacy system and made future enhancements a lot easier.

Rising To Every Challenge

Colin explains that “There was a bit of an issue in that this environment was new to the Zircon engineers.  They weren’t familiar with the kind of tasks the software was being asked to perform, but they soon developed a good understanding of what was going on.”

Another issue was the fact that “We couldn’t supply Zircon with the actual hardware and had to rig up an environment on which the software could run and be tested – we had to create some simulated interfaces for them to work with.  Then there was the fact that there was a huge quantity of legacy code which was not written to current standards and which contained a lot of bugs  So it was a big job.”

Despite all these difficulties we were able to hit our milestones on schedule.   “They were ahead of us much of the time,” concedes Colin, “we were pretty busy on other projects and weren’t always ready to verify and sign things off as soon as they were completed.”

“There was a bit of an issue in that this environment was new to the Zircon engineers …..  but they soon developed a good understanding of what was going on.”

Colin Rebettes

Cobham

Easy To Work With

Colin comments that “The level of services from Zircon was excellent, they were very professional.  Although their offices weren’t nearby to ours we stayed in close touch with their engineers on the telephone.  We had no difficulty sorting out challenges as they arose – they were good at communicating.   And if it was something that needed discussing face to face they’d come down to see us at a moment’s notice.”

“I liked the fact that they weren’t too big, or too small,” Coin continues.  “They had all the necessary skills, capabilities and resources, but weren’t so large that working closely with us was a problem – it was a good fit.  They were very focused on building a good relationship with us, and pretty driven in terms of accomplishing what was required on schedule.  If we had a similar project I’d definitely be looking to use them again.”

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New Web Portal Feature Satisfies Emerging Needs of Client’s End Users

New Web Portal Feature Satisfies Emerging Needs of Client’s End Users

Introduction of New Web Portal Feature Satisfies Emerging Needs of POS Device End Users

Operating Systems: Windows (XP, 7), Microsoft Windows Server 2003
Languages: C#, Javascript, VB.NET, XML
Frameworks: ASP.NET, WCF
Technologies: AJAX
Comms/Networking: HTTPS, SOAP
Software Development Tools: Visual Studio
Our client is a well-known provider of innovative and secure Point Of Sale (POS) systems. In order to support companies in possession of these systems our client offers a 24/7 helpdesk that utilised a database to track and manage maintenance of all the POS terminals currently in the field.

One of these companies expressed a desire to take complete control over the maintenance of the terminals on their premises, and as a result would require some degree of access to the maintenance information database. Our client needed a solution that would interact with the database and provide access to only the relevant information.

Knowing that they did not have access to the necessary resources in house the client approached Zircon for help with developing and implementing a solution.

Initially, Zircon took on more of a consultancy role, the client knew that they wanted a web based solution but were unsure of the best way to proceed. By working alongside the client and maintaining a clear view of the requirements it was decided that a web portal that utilised ASPX.NET, AJAX and JavaScript technologies was the best way forward.

Upon the completion of the final development and testing stages the solution went live to the client’s end user, who immediately put it to good use. With Zircon’s help, our client managed to avoid a potentially difficult situation and allowed them to continue providing a revenue earning service.

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