Driver Development Introduces Valuable Functionality to Client’s Signalling System

Driver Development Introduces Valuable Functionality to Client’s Signalling System

Driver Development Introduces Valuable Functionality to Client’s Signalling System

Operating Systems: Windows (7)
Languages: C++
Software Development Tools: PRQA, Microsoft Visual Studio
Other: BS EN 50128 (SIL2)
Zircon’s client develops and maintains Rail Signalling control software. One of their products, a signalman’s workstation is used by a number of rail operators around the globe to control signals and points in order to direct trains to their destinations, whilst avoiding route collisions.

Our client routinely makes modifications to the core software, to accommodate the differing operational practises of their clients.  Additional functionality can be added through the development of additional software drivers and Zircon was asked to carry out the development of one such driver.

Our client’s software allows signalling technicians to monitor and control the rail network. Trains are routed by the system and often these routes will use the same set of points. To avoid a collision, once a route has been set for one train then all points along that route are locked until that train has passed through the entire route, thus preventing any other train occupying the track along the route.

However, there are occasions when it is desirable to be able to partially release a route in order to let another train cross over the set route, once that track section has been cleared by the preceding train. Prior to the project, there was no way to override the system to clear a locked point.

Zircon developed a driver that utilised the products existing driver framework to provide the functionality to allow a signalling technician to clear locked points.  It integrated with the products logging and diagnostics facilities to ensure all actions are logged for later analysis. All of the code produced was developed to our clients coding standards and verified using peer review and static analysis.

Upon the projects conclusion, the driver had been successfully integrated and fully tested, including component level testing, to ensure the software met the requirements of EN 50128 SIL2.

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Modifications Improve Accuracy of Client’s Project Reporting Mechanism

Modifications Improve Accuracy of Client’s Project Reporting Mechanism

Zircon Improves Accuracy of Client’s Project Efficiency Reporting Mechanism

Operating Systems: Windows (XP)
Languages: VBA
Other: Microsoft Excel

 

Our client had conducted a study of potential ways that cost savings could be delivered through framework contracts. Main contractors would be prepared to reduce their rates, providing contracts are signed in advance for a defined number of years, based on the projected workload of upcoming projects.

The monitoring and reporting of efficiency savings for projects is handled through Efficiency Scorecard spreadsheets built in Microsoft Excel 2003. Separate scorecards are maintained for each regional area, which generates a significant amount of duplicate data that required manually updating on each spreadsheet. In order to ensure that these scorecards provide a complete and accurate project efficiency and reporting mechanism, a number of modifications were required.

Having experience of working with some of our client’s other tools, alongside previous experience of redesigning similar spreadsheet documents for some of our other clients, Zircon was in the perfect position to perform these modifications.

Zircon’s initial responsibility was to focus on removing the redundant information for the Scorecard document and updating the system reference data to acknowledge any changes made during this process. Upon completing this redesign activity Zircon was to perform an audit of all the calculations in the spreadsheet to confirm that they were correct and would refer back to the appropriate reference data.

Throughout the audit process each time a defect was identified and corrected a detailed log was made to ensure the client was fully aware of each change. In addition to the documentation of defects the client had asked Zircon to document every calculation performed by the spreadsheets, and the data they use, to assist our client with understanding and maintaining the altered document.

Prior to the conclusion of the first development stage a review of the upgraded Scorecard was carried out by the client so that Zircon could make any further alterations to ensure the tool operates as specified. Following the completion of the first phase the Efficiency Scorecard spreadsheet was delivered to the client with the data from each separate regional spreadsheet document collated into one place.

The second development phase found Zircon creating a reporting tool that would extract data from the redesigned Scorecard spreadsheet to display information on regional and national efficiency savings. The client had also asked Zircon to integrate a separate Lead Development Manager’s Efficiency Tracker spreadsheet into the Scorecard document so as to avoid the duplication of effort when populating data.

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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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Timetable Data Modifications Sets Up Simulator to Improve Passenger Experience

Timetable Data Modifications Sets Up Simulator to Improve Passenger Experience

Zircon Makes Timetable Data Modifications For Simulator Set Up to Improve Passenger Experience

Operating Systems: Windows
Languages: VBA, XML
Other: Microsoft Excel
Our client is responsible for the operation and maintenance of London’s underground rail network. As part of a project to upgrade one of these underground lines our client was investigating the possibility of implementing an Automatic Train Regulation (ATR) facility, to be provided by a third party supplier.

ATR aims to provide passengers waiting at platforms with a regularly spaced service. This is achieved by allowing trains to vary their speed and the length of time spent dwelling at platforms, within a defined margin, so that each train arrives and departs at regular intervals without bunching up or spreading too far out.

In order to test the possibility of utilising an ATR facility our client had planned to use a Total Systems Simulator (TSS) that had been fed a complete data model of the lines timetable. Unfortunately for our client, the timetable data available at the time of the project did not cater for the requirements necessary to allow ATR to function.

Zircon were engaged by the client to develop a new timetable that would achieve the 33 Trains Per Hour (Tph) target desired by our client, whilst offering the required flexibility to allow ATR to regulate the service.

The solution proposed by Zircon involved taking an existing 33Tph timetable an modifying it in such a way that it would still be capable of achieving 33Tph, whilst coasting would be removed and the length of time spent dwelling at stations would be maximised.

Zircon designed a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet application that made use of VBA macros to read in the existing XML timetable data and place it into worksheets, where the coasting level and arrival time values would be modified in order to remove coasting. This modified data would then presented in a new worksheet. In addition to modifying the existing timetable data, the macros were used to verify and validate the new timesheet by drawing up charts to graphically represent the effect of any changes to arrival and departure times.

Once the timetable data had been successfully modified it was written out into a new XML file ready to be tested by the TSS system.

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Early Fault Identification with Software for Remote Condition Monitoring

Early Fault Identification with Software for Remote Condition Monitoring

Early Fault Identification with Software for Remote Condition Monitoring Of Track Circuits

Operating Systems: Windows (8)
Languages: C#.NET
Frameworks: .NET4, WPF
Databases: SQL Server
Zircon was approached by London Underground to help develop a monitoring system to allow them to assess the status of track circuits on the Victoria Line which would frequently fail without any warning, and lead to high levels of lost customer hours.

The work was part of an ongoing improvement program for this line and our client wanted to be able to detect failures before they happened. Zircon was tasked to develop a software package that would retrieve data from a database, provided by the client, and present it in real time on a touch screen display in the control room.

The majority of this project revolved around the development of the front end Graphical User Interface (GUI) and the back end server solution to work alongside it. The GUI was designed so that it colour codes each track circuit according to their operational status, this allows our clients engineers to identify which circuits have begun to drift away from normal operating conditions.

Once a potential issue is identified, engineers are able to view current and historical conditions for that circuit plotted together in graphical format. Not only does this allow for quick fault diagnosis but also early identification of failing equipment.

In order to provide our client with support for the entire project lifecycle, Zircon generated a system level test specification for the GUI and server side application. We also provided our client with technical on site software support for factory acceptance and line acceptance testing, as well as assisting the client with the documentation and assurance activities associated with the GUI software.

The new system has since been approved and implemented; our clients were more than satisfied with the service provided by Zircon and are hopeful that the level of lost customer hours will see a significant reduction.

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