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Larry Hill Consulting

PROJECTS

Typical past projects are described below. They are organized into Product Development, Problem Solving, and Interim Management.

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

Direct sequence spread spectrum modem design

Challenge:  The client required a data modem to operate under highly unusual conditions. They discovered, after evaluating several options, that no commercial product could meet their needs. The client engaged us to build a custom solution.

Solution:  We served as prime contractor for the development of a spread spectrum modem tailored to the client’s precise requirements. Starting from the fundamental principles of communication theory, we devised appropriate modulation, filtering, synchronization and correlation strategies. We performed filter design, synthesis, and optimization. We implemented the physical layer in FPGAs;  designed and coded the channel control and link layer protocol in an  embedded controller, designed and built the analog front end.

Meter reading and distribution automation system for electric utilities

Challenge:  Reduce the cost of an existing multichip automatic meter reading system to meet market demands. The client, a manufacturer of distribution automation systems which it sells to electric utilities in Europe, had already been working with the IC/SS three-chip power line carrier modem developed, patented and licensed by Larry Hill.

Solution:  We served as prime contractor for the development of a new integrated circuit. We first determined the cost reduction that could be achieved through fuller integration and presented the business case for proceeding. We worked with senior management to refine the requirements, and subsequently designed the system and managed its implementation. We led a team of six subcontractors who implemented the ASIC design in VHDL, re-wrote the communications protocol in embedded C to run in a RISC processor core on-chip, and implemented a revised version of the basic applications code. A fully functioning system was demonstrated using Altera FPGAs. We assisted the client in selection of an ASIC vendor and provided technical support in procurement and verification of production parts.

Feasibility study for a building automation system-on-chip

Challenge:  A leading manufacturer of access control systems and architectural hardware for commercial buildings sought to add value and differentiate its products by incorporating intelligence.

Solution:  We performed a feasibility study to quantify the development and production costs of a custom integrated circuit which would perform a defined set of communication and control tasks. We worked with the client’s management and marketing personnel to clarify functional requirements, production volume and cost points. We implemented a bread-board design to prove the feasibility of certain design elements. We then developed detailed  specifications, and itemized development and production cost estimates. On learning the likely true costs, the client chose a less ambitious path better suited to its business goals. 

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PROBLEM SOLVING

CAN Open protocol optimization for manufacturing automation

Challenge:  A particular application of the CAN Open protocol for CAN Bus needed to meet strict demands for short latency, large bandwidth and fail-safe operation.

Solution:  We collaborated with the client’s teams of engineers from the U.S. and Europe to devise approaches that support an aggressive set of bus latency and throughput requirements -- a solution that met the client’s requirement both for performance and interoperability. We served as a bridge among the international engineering team, marketing staff and the company’s management, presenting the technical options that led to a sound business decision.

Optimal radio link for surveillance images

Challenge:  The US Navy requires a data link to transfer surveillance data from a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) to a submarine, using submarine antenna/mast structures currently deployed in the fleet. This data link must be covert, jam-proof, and be fabricated from COTS (Consumer Off-The-Shelf) components at very low cost.

Solution:  In collaboration with a specialist experienced with submarine antennas and RF, we developed an evaluation tool, implemented in Excel, that allows examination of tradeoffs among such factors as bandwidth, power consumption, modulation structure, image compression algorithms, and range. Using this tool, we evaluated various designs, and showed the feasibility of a system using COTS components which offers dramatically improved performance at lower cost than options previously available to the Navy.

Improved Zigbee radio system

Challenge: An early-stage company developing a unique approach to personal communications chose Zigbee for in-building use. They found serious deficiencies in its performance.

Solution: We reviewed the design at both hardware and architectural levels. By making minor changes to component values in the RF front-end and by redesigning the antenna, we achieved over 20 dB improvement in link margin. In addition, we identified and found solutions for two major problems in the system architecture.

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INTERIM TECHNICAL MANAGEMENT

Engineering management for a venture-funded start-up

Challenge: A start-up company whose founder had invented fundamental technology involving MEMS and electro-chemistry, needed to achieve extraordinarily aggressive technical goals to meet business objectives.

Solution: Larry Hill served for nine months as acting manager of engineering. Collaborating with the founder, he planned and executed an effort which more than achieved the technical objectives, coordinated activities of contractors and academic consultants, hired a permanent Vice President of Engineering and other staff, and spent less than budgeted.

High Accuracy RF Navigation System

Challenge:  Start-up founder invented a very precise, low cost RF position location system, but engineers he hired were not coming to closure on a satisfactory prototype.

Solution:  Larry Hill assessed the performance of early prototypes vs. market requirements, invented a better system architecture using advanced radar tracking concepts, analyzed and simulated performance, and prepared a patent application. He recruited a marketing consultant and potential CEO, and supported initial marketing efforts. System attracted substantial interest from major players in the target markets.

M2M industrial sensor system

Challenge: An early-stage company with an M2M sensing product required an engineering resource to progress from an unfunded idea with a prototype, to an ongoing business.

Solution: Larry Hill handled technology issues when/as needed over a five year period,  so the CEO could concentrate on customers and funding. As a result,  the company was funded and  launched on a growth trajectory. We solved various reliability and performance problems, evolved the system architecture to match better understanding of the market, managed a product redesign  using a team of contractors and employees, and helped CEO hire a permanent Vice President of Engineering.

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