Agile techniques applied to hardware design to mitigate engineering uncertainty
Dave Marples, chief scientist, Technolution
We developed a novel camera subsystem for tunneling electron microscopes (Tem) using direct electron excitation of a sixteen megaixel imaging sensor rather than conventional secondary photonic emission. This new approach allows lower numbers of electrons to be used in the sensing process, making the camera particularly suitable for life science applications where degradation of the objective is a major concern. Building this new camera, which was the first of its kind, was a challenge which stretched electronic and mechanical designers and required the application of novel materials and assembly techniques in a world where the capabilities and limits of the sensor itself could only be fully characterized during the design activity.
In this presentation we discuss the process we went through to design, develop and produce this product, which borrowed concepts and ideas from Agile software engineering and allowed us to contain uncertainties such as the rate at which data could be received from the sensor, the temperature at which it needed to operate to provide noise-free images and the amount of heat it would generate in operation. The process demanded innovations such as the use of iterative four week sprint and review cycles to clearly establish the system requirements. We candidly discuss the pits we fell into and some of those we managed to avoid in the hope of providing guidance to other engineers working with similar unavoidable technological and project uncertainties. We also provide information about the architecture and the design itself and its application in the real world and examples of images produced using the end product, which is now in the field.
Dave Marples is chief scientist at Technoloution, where he is responsible for the companys research activities participation. He was previously chief scientist at Telcordia of Piscataway, New Jersey, and prior to that was CTO of Citel, a computer/telephony integration specialist based in the UK. His BEng and MEng degrees are from Bradford University in England and his PhD is from Strathclyde University in Scotland. He is honorary professor of Communications at Stirling University and is an industrial fellow of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 and a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.