Red Horizon

Introduction

Red Horizon Services Ltd are a UK based Engineering Consultancy with expertise in Electronics and Firmware. We are based on the Cambridgeshire / Northamptonshire border near Peterborough. We have a 20 year history of developing the electronics for products, as R&D, as technology demonstrators, and as high volume consumer products (100K+ volumes). We also have developed Production Test Equipment and delivered projects using Industrial Automation.

Red Horizon is led by Chris Cowdery, a seasoned Chartered Engineer (MIET) with 20+ years experience in the industry. He has worked with a wide variety of microcontroller families and circuits, creating proof of concepts, prototypes and commercially available products (100Kpcs/pa).

He has supported production locally and the Far East with bespoke equipment, documentation and support.

Highlights are listed in reverse time order

Enluse

Enluse B.V. are a Dutch distributor of lubrication products. Red Horizon Services has developed the Electrical part of two products:

The first product is a 500litre engine oil reservoir, which dispenses oil into the sump of a CHP Generating Engine (20 cylinder 720litre Gas engine). The unit dispenses 50 litres of oil, then replenishes itself from an external store, and circulates the oil through a filter. The unit is controlled by a Siemens PLC.

The second product is an electrical version of the Lustor. This is an oil reservoir (125,250 and 500litres), with a pump and dispensing tap. Red Horizon developed an Electrical Control Module for this to control the unit

Herbarium

Herbarium required a prototype Still for developing a new non alcoholic beverage. Red Horizon developed a simple system using a pan and heating element, controlled by an Arduino. Different temperature control strategies (constant energy, thermostatic temperature or full PID) were implemented to allow the optimum strategy for the process to be developed.

SureFlap / Sure Petcare

Chris worked from Senior Engineer to Head of Embedded Systems at Sure Petcare. Whilst there, he was involved in the firmware, electronics and to a lesser extent the mechanical design of the Microchip Pet Feeder, the Sealed Pet Bowl, the SureSense handheld microchip reader, and the Microchip Pet Door Connect.

He was also involved in the Production Test Equipment for these products. The images show the Microchip Pet Feeder, SureSense and the Pet Door Connect.

This work has involved using the Microchip PIC, Kinetis ARM Cortex M0+, 8051 and STM32 ARM Cortex M0+ families of processors, using the XC8 toolchain in the MPLABX IDE and IAR Embedded Workbench. Both 'C' and Assembler are used, and some pretty advanced linker configuration.

Warwick Evans Design

Chris also worked with Warwick Evans at Warwick Evans Design on firstly the Know-Light - a battery powered LED desk lamp

Followed by the successful Kickstarter backed project Printed Light which is similar to Know-Light, but without the battery, and in a much larger form factor.

Both projects are an Atmel AVR8 and Cree XM-L LED on MPCB (aluminium substrate PCB)

Also with Warwick, he co-developed another Printed Light which uses gesture to set the direction of the lamp.

This time he used an STM32 and 6 ST time-of-flight proximity sensors to control the 6 Cree XP-E LEDs.

Worlds Brightest Caving Lamp

Chris built the worlds brightest caving lamp. It is 11200 Lumens (derived from 12 Cree XM-L's driven at 3Amps each), powered by a 5cell Lithium Polymer battery. All helmet mounted

Even 5 years after it's launch, it has not been beaten in terms of brightness

Prior to SureFlap, Chris worked at NXT / HiWave. This business was NXT when he joined, became HiWave, and shortly after he left, split into Tectonic Elements and Redux Labs (subsequently bought by Google>.

Chris developed a battery powered (1x LiIon) Bluetooth Amplifier reference design. This was intended to go alongside a speaker and form the basis of a wireless speaker. It was shown at CES in 2012.

Note that is picture shows it in it's final incarnation. Previously it was split in half, so it could be stacked to give a smaller (but thicker) form factor.

It was based on a highly efficient amplifier IC (AS2002) from the now defunct Audium Semiconductor (who were taken over by HiWave), an STM32 microcontroller and a Bluetooth Module with the BC5-MM IC from CSR.

This image shows the board in it's prior form, folded in two, and fitted into a clear speaker, as designed by Warwick Evans Design

For a few years prior to that, Chris worked on NXT Haptics. This is basically where a vibration is put into a flat panel, the form of which causes physical movement at certain locations but not others. So it's completely unlike the whole-body vibration that you get in phones. It is a multi-touch haptics. Chris developed a 'Haptic Module', which is a small module containing a 'haptic engine' (a CPU with DSP), and an amplifier. Because the flat panel can also be a speaker, it was possible to route audio through it as well. You fire X,Y co-ordinates into one end (via I2C, SPI or RS232), and it drives a couple of transducers with the other.

Technology used is an ARM-Cortex M3, and the PCB used 0201 components.

We also did a demonstration unit to show the module off to it's best effect

Prior to that, NXT worked with a Japanese printing company called Nissha. We co-developed various Haptic Demonstrators, which generally took the form of some kind of tablet PC. The biggest issue with basing them on existing hardware / operating systems is that for haptics to work properly, you need a link between the touchscreen driver and the haptics driver. Chris therefore developed a mini-tablet from scratch. It looked like this (showing various applications running on it):

It was based on an STM32F103 ARM Cortex M3 microcontroller with a couple of megabytes of external RAM, microSD interface, 4 audio channels (for the haptics), capacitive multitouch (Nissha + Cypress PSoC), an SSD1961 LCD controller, battery management and USB. For the firmware, Chris used GCC, ported over newlib to the hardware, with the EFSL filesystem and underlying SD driver providing filesystem hooks. Chris wrote his own 32bit multitasking OS, using all the features of the core, key parts being Systick, User and Priviledged modes, SYS calls to OS functions, inter-process messaging, audio and touch drivers, and a full GUI. It was, frankly, a piece-de-resistance. All the various images above are different processes running in isolation, making the necessary calls to the OS and responding to messages containing user input information. The only limitation was that all the processes were included at compile time for the whole system. The final step would have been to get the compiler to generate position independent code and produce images that could be loaded into RAM at runtime. This was attempted this as an aside, but failed to work.

There were some prior versions, which were written as a single program without OS, in both 2.9" and 5"

These ones used an Altera EPLD of Chris' design to drive the LCD. At the time he couldn't find a standalone LCD controller, so he did his own. It appeared to the CPU as RAM, but the contents of the RAM were output to the LCD. It also had a few neat features where you could scroll the display by just changing the start address of the image in RAM.

He also did a few demonstrators which were Netbook PC's repackaged into tablets, running programs that did the haptics. They ran both Windows and Linux.

Prior to the Nissha project, Chris worked on a collaboration between NXT and MeadWestVaco (WestRock nowadays).

MeadWestVaco were looking at Printed Electronics, and we offered the interesting possibility of printed speakers. Unfortunately it never came to anything, but we did a whole bunch of interesting R&D.

One project which did lead to product was a Point Of Sale unit which turned a cardboard box into an interactive speaker. You tapped the speaker, and it played you an advertising message.

The images show the control unit, and one of the two exciters which were stuck to the inside of the box. The clever thing with this is that the amplifier was just an output stage, and the audio was stored in a serial flash memory. So to get playback, all you had to do was clock the flash, using the 1-bit output to toggle the Class D output stage. The funky maths was done off-line beforehand to process a .wav file into a suitable format.

This architecture was used in a number of variations and demonstrators. The idea was that it was suitable to use on printed electronics, where clocking a memory and driving a transistor would be easier than running a DAC and CPU. At the time, memory was too small in Printed Electronics. Now it would be possible.....

Chris also made something called 'Tripod' for obvious reasons:

This was a unit containing battery, amplifier and exciter. You just peeled off the release paper and stuck it to a light flat panel, and presto, instant speaker! It worked pretty well.

This next one was a technology demonstrator. It was part of a roadmap to get to printed speakers. The electronics is architected as above with the single bit driving the transducers. The whole thing was made on very thin FR4, which when bonded to some Kraft cardboard, gave good results. It is shown face down, but would be used stood up on the other face.

I did the hardware design for the 3M DST touch technology which was invented by NXT. The PCB was extremely tight.

DST uses four transducers which detect the bending waves introduced into a flat panel by touching it. Clever DSP algorithms convert these bending waves back into a touch location. It works amazingly well, scales freely, and doesn't suffer degradation with surface damage. Chris only did the hardware and bootloader for the DSP. He has no idea how the algorithm actually works!

Chris' first project at NXT was the infamous 'Reflective Signalling'. This was an R&D project that he lead which used the reflections from the end of transmission lines to transmit data. In a conventional system, transmission lines are terminated with a matching impedance. With RefSig, the line is either open or short circuit, and this is modulated in synch with the incoming datastream to give a return datastream without the need for a line driver at both ends.

It was a technology idea that NXT purchased from its inventor, and he developed it into a working technology demonstrator. It ultimately failed in the marketplace because it was a solution looking for a problem.

NXT had their own ASIC designed and manufactured, and built the technology demonstrator around it. The demonstrator comprised a CardBus card for the 'master node', a mouse 'slave node', a hard drive 'slave node', and a 'lights and switches' slave node. All held together by a VB6 application on Windows 2000.

Chris also had a paper published in one of the IEE journals in Feb 2003!

Prior to NXT, Chris spent two years at Tag McLaren Audio. Whilst there, he did the electronics design for Aphrodite (CD player + Tuner + 50W/channel Amplifier).

It used a Siemens C161 processor, a Sony CD player mechanism and chipset, and a vast amount of discrete components for the myriad of power supplies and the discrete amplifier. Chris never did any firmware for it, just the hardware design and test (excluding the amplifier which was lifted from the Audiolab 8000A amplifier).

Chris started his professional career at what started as Ferranti Thomson Sonar Systems, then Thomson Marconi Sonar (now Thales), at Church Crookham. He worked on the Sonar 2076 suite.

He did some of the work on the Flank array, Towed Array and MDA outboard systems. At the time, we were talking data acquisition at the leading edge of what was possible.

Each one of the little metal boxes in the photo probably contains boards that Chris worked on

Chris graduated from Bangor University with a 1st Class Meng in Computer Systems Engineering in 1996 and in 2005 he qualified to become a Chartered Engineer.

All images (C) 2018-2019

Last modified on: 11th November 2019

This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.