Zircon Brings Together Services to Provide Continuous Support of Police Force Telematics System

Zircon Brings Together Services to Provide Continuous Support of Police Force Telematics System

Zircon Brings Together Services to Provide Continuous Support of Police Force Telematics System

Operating Systems: Widows Server (2012)
Languages: C#, HTML, XML, Python, F#, CSS, SQL, Borland Delphi
Methodologies: Object Oriented Design, UML, SCRUM, Test Driven Development, Model-view-view-model, Structured Analysis, Structured Design
Frameworks: Angular.JS, .Net Framework, ASP.NET, AKKA
Technologies: RabbitMQ, Hibernate, Redis
Comms/Networking: TCP/IP, TETRA, HTTPS
Configuration Management: Git, Azure DevOps (previously TFS)
Software Development Tools: Microsoft Visual Studio (2010, 2012, 2015), Visio, Resharper, Moq, xUnit
Databases: Microsoft SQL (2014, 2016), Relational Databases
Our client has developed several software products for use by the Defence and Emergency Service sectors. One of these products is a telematics and fleet management system that was developed to support the police force.

Facing the loss of a key resource in the support of this telematics system, our client began the process of finding a new third line support solution. After a series of discussions, Zircon was asked to fulfil this role and with agreement from our client, Zircon provided a mix of services, to include support, feature development and consultancy.

Mindful of our client’s relatively low experience with an outsourcing partner like Zircon, the Zircon team were careful to ensure that regular communication was maintained at all points throughout the project. Key stakeholders were involved in all sprint planning, review and retrospective meetings, as well as regular updates to ensure that they were aware of progress and the state of any features or fixes being worked on.

From our experiences of working on projects of this nature, we know how important the onboarding period is for our clients. The product is a complex system, based around a C# ASP.Net front end coupled to a Microsoft SQL Server database and a collection of back end services that utilise a wide variety of technologies such as RabbitMQ, NHibernate, Angular.JS and Redis. To make the transition as smooth as possible and gain valuable insight into the system, Zircon team members invested several days to work alongside our client’s existing product teams and to attend meetings with key stakeholders.

As an additional part of this onboarding process, we ensure that time is given to familiarise ourselves with our client’s configuration management and build process. This involves doing a build of the system before making any alterations, or with a very slight change and carrying out system and integration testing, reassuring both ourselves and our clients that their process documentation is as accurate as possible and that our team understands them.

With this insight, we were able to provide our client with reliable ongoing support, as well as provide them with assistance in developing their life-cycle and deployment processes.

One of the components of this system is an ETL toolset that allows for the transfer of large quantities of data from fleet vehicles. Over time the stored ETL processes had become interwoven, where various architectures had been built up on top of each other. This complex structure made maintaining the system challenging and lead to the appearance of bugs.

To clarify the actual structure of the interwoven architecture, Zircon engineers created a user manual of all the stored procedures in both picture and flow diagram form, accompanied by descriptions and code examples. Having this clarity upfront not only aided our ability to debug the system but also gave the client a helpful manual that would allow them to work on the system without our assistance.

Alongside our development work, we also offered our consultancy service to help our client find a solution to a few additional issues. For example, there is an expectation for police data records to be retained for several years, but the database where it was being stored had reached capacity and historical data was periodically extracted and placed elsewhere. In this instance we provided our client with advice on how to achieve continuous integration of the service while backups could continue to be taken.

We fulfilled this role for 18 months before our involvement was brought to an end when our client made the decision to end-of-life the product. In light of this decision, our client wanted to bring the support back in house for the final few months. To ease this transition, Zircon assisted in the handover process, offering training for our client’s team from our offices in Trowbridge.

For this project we were able to come in quickly, rapidly gain knowledge of the system and successfully provide the support service that they required. We worked closely with our client right from day one, building our relationship to a point where they could trust us to make suggestions to improve both their processes and their product.

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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 Applies Video Analytics for RSSB Funded Feasibility Study

Zircon Applies Video Analytics for RSSB Funded Feasibility Study

Zircon Applies Video Analytics for RSSB Remote Condition Monitoring Feasibility Study

Languages: Python
Zircon were awarded funding from the RSSB, who play a major role in improving and regulating the safety of the railway industry, to undertake a feasibility study as part of the RCM program. RSSB had identified ten unresolved challenges that prevent the full implementation of remote condition monitoring on the railway.

Zircon was responsible for investigating a system that would utilise the forward facing CCTV cameras on trains to detect unauthorised human presence within the boundary fence, whilst filtering out authorised human presence. Additionally, our client expressed interest in utilising the train CCTV feeds to identify any significant movement of the objects within the vicinity of the track that may begin to block the passage of rolling stock as well as check the visibility of essential rail side infrastructures.

As a feasibility study, we were called on to examine a high number of variables and potential design problems. For example, the system will be expected to function accurately in a variety of lighting and weather conditions, distinguish the difference between rail workers in high-vis clothing and members of the public who have strayed inside the boundary of the track, and do all this from a moving platform whilst providing accurate position information.

With regards to detecting human incursion, the focus of the study was on our ability to detect human presence in a multitude of different lighting conditions, similar to those experienced on the daily journey of trains, and the ability to identify and differentiate authorised personnel from unauthorised human presence. During testing we found that the probability of detecting people over a variety of contrast and lighting conditions was surprisingly high, and following the inclusion of pre-configurable Hi-Vis parameters the identification of authorised presence was achievable.

Unlike detecting human presence, the ability to detect the movement of objects was slightly more complex and unfamiliar. As there is no way to define what the system should be searching for the techniques used in previous object detection projects we had done would not necessarily be suitable. Our solution for this problem was to generate an ‘interest map’ of the journey landscape in order to compare CCTV footage from train journeys in order to monitor and identify changes in landscape. Our tests found that generating the map itself was easy, however monitoring changes against the map was less so but still possible.

Currently the entirety of the study has been completed off-train without representative CCTV footage, and is awaiting the opportunity for a train mounted trial in order to try and identify real life problems. It is our hope that once this system has been proven, the technology could be utilised to forewarn of further issues which have an impact on the levels of safety and performance of the railway.

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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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Next Generation CCTV System Boosts Passenger Safety and Supports Driver Only Operation

Next Generation CCTV System Boosts Passenger Safety and Supports Driver Only Operation

Next Generation CCTV System Boosts Passenger Safety and Supports Driver Only Operation

Operating Systems: Linux
Languages: C++, Python, XML
Comms/Networking: QT
Other: BS EN 50128 SIL1
Our client provides CCTV systems to passenger train manufacturers across the world. Our client was developing its next generation CCTV system and Zircon was contracted to work closely with them to provide the software element of the system.

Zircon was responsible for the design and development of the software and its integration with client provided hardware and subsequent testing. The system was required to be developed in accordance with EN 50128 Safety Integrity Level 1 as Driver Only Operation, where the driver is responsible for ensuring whether it is safe to move off, was a requirement.

The CCTV system consists of a number of components:

  • Saloon, Door, Front/Rear Facing and Roof cameras
  • Video Recording Unit
  • Network Switches
  • Drivers Touchscreen Interface
  • Off-train playback software

Zircon developed software for all of the above elements.

The software was designed to allow the system to self-configure itself as components are added and removed from the CCTV system network.  Video footage is continually recorded onto hot swappable disks until all available space is filled before the oldest recordings are overwritten.

The CCTV system receives alarm messages (passenger or fire) from the train and if an alarm is triggered then the recording of the incident, and a period of time either side, is archived.  Video is recorded in a secure format in accordance with Home Office regulations and separate playback software developed to prevent tampering to allow video footage to be used in legal cases.

On arrival at a platform, the drivers in-cab display is activated to show images from the Door cameras.  The driver is then able to ensure they are free from obstruction before moving off.  If an alarm is raised, then drivers display will switch to the nearest camera to give them a view of the incident.

Zircon’s involvement started with developing and defining the client supplied system requirements into a set of clear and traceable points.  These requirements were then used as an input into the System Architecture Design, where the System was split into a set of components.  Each of the identified components was then analysed, designed and captured in a Component Design Specification.  These specifications could then be used by the Zircon development team to develop the code.  In order to ensure the production of maintainable code, and reduce cost at later stages in the products life, Zircon worked to a set of coding standards and gave great care to carry out regular code reviews and static analysis.  Component, System/Integration and Acceptance testing was then used to ensure that the developed software conforms with the original requirements and was fit for purpose.

Due to the safety aspects of the system, the software had to be robust and reliable and the integrity of the live and recorded video footage maintained at all times, and as such the software was developed in accordance with EN 50128 SIL 1 procedures and to Zircon’s BSI accredited Quality Management System. 

Before final handover to the client the system was tested and reviewed by an independent third party to ensure the system met the EN 50128 SIL1 standard and that the system assurance procedures had been followed correctly.

Zircon successfully delivered the software to our client and has subsequently provided support services to our client as they introduced and modified the system for new clients.

 

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