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ACORDE Technologies

by Fernando Herrera

ACORDE1 , an SME based in Santander (Spain), has recently reached 25 years of experience in the design and manufacture of RF subsystems for the Defence, Space and Telecommunications sectors. From its origins around a cutting-edge RF communication lab of the University of Cantabria, ACORDE has grown into a team of experts in highly complex RF projects working on innovative research. 25 years of innovation and experience have enabled a wide range of products for transmission and reception in different bands, with different power levels, where quality, reliability and robustness ensure durability and proper operation in the most hostile environments and complex missions. Reaching this point from that initial 100% RF focus has required ACORDE to learn and transform into an interdisciplinary group of experts, acquiring expertise in fields as diverse as PCB design & manufacturing, mechanical design and embedded system development.

From this technological base, ACORDE has pursued a research strategy that contributes to additional and cutting-edge technologies as a way to generate further products & services able to support new business models. This strategy has proven to be right as it has enabled ACORDE to provide in-house IT-related services (with important advantages, e.g. in confidentiality, for a company like ACORDE)2 and consultancy on aspects like networking, servers, virtualisation, VoIP, access control and CCTV, etc, but also to its research partners, public and private customers.

While the skills and commitment of ACORDE IT team is a main ingredient of these new business branches in the company, a necessary, additional ingredient of the aforementioned research strategy is collaborative research. This means collaboration in national and international, European research projects, but also belonging to and collaboration with different national (e.g. AMETIC) and European industrial associations, like INSIDE. The investment by ACORDE in these collaborative platforms, and in the collaboration in European projects with an industrial initiative, e.g., ECSEL, KDT, Chips JU, is greatly rewarded in the many benefits of participation. This has facilitated ACORDE personnel gaining access to a European network of experts and early and close touch with the cutting-edge and forthcoming technologies that are strategic for regaining European leadership in ECS.

ACORDE’s capabilities for embedded and electronic design (applied, for example, to digital control of RF equipment), plus its aim to collaborate with and learn from leading European experts, have been a perfect entry point for ACORDE as a trusted system integrator in many collaborative research projects. A system integration role is of such necessity that it would have been sufficient to guarantee ACORDE’s activity in collaborative projects. However, such collaboration has been also crucial to gain further knowledge and expertise in new technologies.

An example of one of those technologies where ACORDE has gained an important capability is in the provision of geo-positioning/location solutions. In this sense ACORDE has been able to develop expertise and provide solutions in several key layers of positioning solutions, from multi-frequency GNSS front ends up to multi-antenna, multi-constellation fusion algorithms combining GNSS and low cost sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer), GNSS compass algorithms, secure positioning (anti-jamming, antispoofing), real-time precise positioning (RTK), and indoor positioning solutions. This capability was extensively developed in European projects like AUDITOR, GLAD-2, COMP4DRONES and GALIRUMI. Now, this capability is employed in other customer driven projects, e.g. for floating solar plants.

A more recent, and very promising technological development of ACORDE is on advanced industrial monitoring solutions. Figure 2 sketches how the proposed industrial monitoring solution in a recent project called AIDOaRt3 encompasses the expertise acquired so far, with its upgrade and combination with novel approaches and technologies acquired within the project. The AIDOaRt experience can indeed be considered as a paradigmatic case on the aspects which collaborative research in these type of industrial driven research projects can lead to a qualitative improvement of ACORDE solutions. While some initial publications on this monitoring solution can be found in 4 5, the rest of the article will focus on the aforementioned aspects.

First, the AIDOaRt project enabled a classical, incremental advance in the company capabilities through the development of a new industrial geo-location solution suited to a harsh environment, precise (cm-level) for real-time (10 Hz) positioning of port cranes. For that solution, previous knowhow was employed to develop Positioning IoTs (PIoTs) and Base Station (BS) prototypes but, at the same time, it also required acquiring cutting edge knowledge in PPP positioning to eventually enable a more automated, user friendly configuration. Advanced embedded edge development was also required to ensure service reliability.

Second, this development exemplifies the adaptation and adoption of new paradigms, like edge computing, IoT-EdgeCloud continuum or computing continuum architecture. In this solution, ACORDE developed an industrial Gateway (GW in Figure 2, see its prototype implementation in Figure 3), an edge device, where ACORDE also demonstrated the capability to run a set of containerised services for gathering sensed data, formatting them, and dumping the data into a local data base. Containerisation was known and exploited by the company as it provides relevant advantages in terms of fast service deployment, easy management, better security, and the avoidance of incompatibilities among software packages. The project served to endorse the possibility to run these types of containerised services on the edge monitoring infrastructure and, moreover, to learn and incorporate cutting-edge features, related to federated databases, which exploit and boost the advantages of the edge-cloud collaboration. The new approach enables specific analysis to be performed at the edge and, depending on their result, decisions about the different data that is shared with the cloud, ranging from full synchronisation to no sending of data. Within that range, specific metadata, summary metrics, issue reports or down sampled data can be sent to the cloud. This enables more flexible and resource-efficient monitoring solutions.

Third, the AIDOaRt experience enabled wilder experimentation on technologies where the company started to accumulate previous research experience, looking for its exploitation in domains like industrial monitoring, where ACORDE had found how to exploit AI/DL for sensor drift anticipation, thus to improve predictive maintenance. This research answered the question of how to exploit AI/DL for the health of the monitoring system provided by ACORDE. It is also interesting for the stakeholder and/ or expert of the monitored plant whose first goal is to have a transparent, reliable monitoring system, which provides monitored parameters with the best precision, frequency and cost. Then, AIDOaRt served to answer a further question, i.e., whether the same AI/ DL techniques could be also exploited to offer analyses of the plant at the edge, as a complementary analysis useful for the plant stakeholder. The expectation was that deep learning (DL) could make useful domainagnostic analysis possible thanks to its capability to learn the features from historical data. This question was studied through the development of a Location Anomaly Analysis (LAA) service, based on a neural network trained with the normal operation of a set of straddle carrier cranes. The result of the experiment was positive, once it was shown that anomalous behaviours, i.e., unusual trajectories considering both spatial and time variables, were possible. This is illustrated in the dashboards developed by ACORDE for the graphical visualisation of the detected anomalies (see Figure 3).

Fourth, the continuous feedback from project collaborations and from the community is vital. Direct collaborations, like the one in AIDOaRt with Prodevelop6 , leader in ports digitalisation and a reference in Spanish ports7 . It guided ACORDE into actual port monitoring needs (e.g., precise, robust, and cost-effective real-time positioning monitoring of straddle carriers) and moreover is leading to a fruitful collaboration towards synergistic solutions relying on Prodevelop management software and edge monitoring infrastructure from ACORDE. The community feedback is acquired via event attendance and publications that enable the company to check its alignment, e.g. sharing lessons learned, realise divergences, and the type of added value that is being developed. A direct example of this, with regard to the aforementioned AI/DL anomaly analysis, was found by ACORDE in a recent INSIDE publication on AI for semiconductor manufacturing8 , exposing a number of aspects and advantages (release from tagged data requirement, more comprehensive understanding from multivariate analysis, xAI for root cause analysis to identify feature important) which were found to be common for the ACORDE LAA. At the same time, 8 also shows other aspects, e.g. “What-if” scenarios that can serve as good guides to future improvements of the ACORDE LAA. Finally, ACORDE makes seriously consideration of global strategic documents generated by the Electronics Components and Systems (ECS) community, i.e. the ECS Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (ECS-SRIA)9 . To this extent, ACORDE is aligned in more novel key technologies, like quantum computing and RISC-V architectures. It is difficult to distinguish how much of this alignment comes from ECS-SRIA awareness, but what it is sure is that there is a significant part that comes from strategic needs that can be foreseen from the current ACORDE market. Security is now a must in RF monitoring and control electronics, as well as for other non-RF ACORDE developments; and the capability to port some ACORDE portfolio to RISC-V is expected to lead to benefits in terms of technological independence and new business opportunities.

Therefore, while the future guarantees nothing, the aforementioned alignments, and undoubted commitment of ACORDE to ‘Challenge the limits’, in collaboration with prominent European companies and research institutions, gives us confidence that we are heading in the right direction for future innovative and profitable solutions for European society.

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