Syncopated Systems
Seriously Sound Science

Case Studies

Want to learn about how Syncopated Systems has already helped other companies?

Selected accomplishments include:

These are presented below in STAR format (similar to PAR, SPAR, and SOARA).

Modernizing Railroad Equipment

Situation

lightbulb indicating idea

An established (then 10-year-old) supplier of railway maintenance equipment and related services had a concept for a product that would safely and accurately minimize the amount of labor needed to perform the regular maintenance task of delivering and replenishing ballast rock around railway ties.

The company had outsourced development to another contractor who was unable to provide a reliable interface to the industrial control system, and the interface hardware was too large and heavy to be moved regularly.

Task

Above all, the product needed to be safe. The company recognized the potential for a malfunction to derail a train while on a curved mountainside track, killing all aboard and below, and causing significant property damage.

In addition, the product needed to be compatible with, build upon, and extend the capabilities of existing products, and portable enough to be carried by a single operator.

The concept needed to be developed into a portable commercially-viable product that minimizes the substantial inherent risks to life and property, complies with the regulations of the Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and does not infringe intellectual property rights of others.

Action

Railroad cars replenishing ballast automatically while moving to the left
Railroad cars replenishing ballast automatically
while moving to the left

Syncopated Systems developed the idea by:

  • Designing and developing a system that is intrinsically very safe, through good hardware and software design practices, including fault tolerance and minimal redundancy
  • Diagnosing and correcting the unreliable work-in-progress interface to the industrial control system and reverse-engineering re-designing much of the industrial control interface to make it portable, removing it from its non-portable large heavy steel enclosure and shrinking its volume and mass by about 90%
  • Creating industry-standard interfaces to GPS receivers (including inexpensive consumer and industrial units, and higher-resolution differential models), ultimately devising and creating a new position-sensing instrument that improved accuracy while circumventing potential infringement of a competitor’s patent
  • Developing computer application software that collects data and controls the system in real time and with great accuracy, with an integration path for another product being developed in parallel
  • Recommending the use of rugged Panasonic Toughbook portable computers with touch screens (the company first adopting model CF-29 and later model CF-30), and tailoring the software's graphical user interface (GUI) to take full advantage of the touch screen interface

After demonstrating the prototype to the company’s potential customers and receiving their feedback, project goals shifted from accuracy to speed, and Syncopated Systems quickly added the desired functionality.

Technologies common in video games that were transferred into this product include real-time artificial intelligence (AI)—with game theory, machine learning (ML), and a simulation engine that verified and validated its correct operation—plus back-end databases (with a state-of-the-art implementation using XML), and those included in the front-end graphical user interface (GUI).

Results

The product was able to place about half a megaton of material at a time, even at speeds exceeding 10 miles per hour —10 times faster than without this product—and with precision that increases automatically at lower speeds. With an outstanding record of safety, this became the dominant product in its field.

This product has since been improved through integration with the other product that was being developed in parallel.

The company has been recognized regularly for its outstanding record of safety.

Georgetown Rail Equipment Company 2003-2009

Prototype Industrial Equipment

Situation

Illustrated in blue, the large prototype is intended as a critical component for a much larger system
Illustrated in blue, the large prototype
is intended as a critical component
for a much larger system

A small startup company had less than 24 hours to ship its large prototype automated industrial equipment for a demonstration before the federal government in Washington DC, but a critical component was failing as the company’s deadline approached.

Task

The company needed its system fixed fast.

Action

Within only four hours of the initial call, Syncopated Systems analyzed the hardware problems, determined their root cause was poor signal integrity, and corrected the company’s circuit design to include adequate signal filtering.

Results

The system could be delivered as scheduled, enabling the company to continue its operation and thrive as a leader in its field.

2008

World Congress on Information Technology

Situation

General Colin Powell speaking at WCIT2006 (Image by Charles Mok)
General Colin Powell speaking at WCIT2006
(Image by Charles Mok, used with permission)

Since 1978, the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA) has organized the biggest global event in information and communications technology (ICT), which includes and extends information technology (IT).

The 2006 World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT2006) was coming to Austin, Texas.

Though the organization operated admirably within a modest budget and had someone very smart and well-educated (with a Ph.D.) managing its customer relationship management (CRM) database, that person's knowledge was in a field totally unrelated to computers. As a result, the database and marketing efforts were out of control.

The database was stored in a single-user version of Microsoft Access and had already grown in size to about 15,000 records. Frequent searches of the database usually took more than an hour to run. To assure that backup copies of the information were made regularly (reducing risk of loss), the database was stored on a central file server that was backed up nightly.

Task

Because the database contained highly sensitive personally-identifying information (PII) for people including guest speakers and political leaders from around the world, this information needed to be protected. (For recent directives from our federal government, see the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Handbook for Safeguarding Sensitive PII.)

The existing data needed to be reduced (finding potential duplicate records, etc.) and cleansed. Moving forward, the organization needed an automated tool that would allow it to perform these tasks regularly. It also wanted to automate the process of data collection, integrating it through its existing web site.

Action

Syncopated Systems wasted no time by seeking the authoritative source defining how email addresses should be formatted, wrote software to normalize and reduce the information in the database, and automated the integration of information entered through its web site, all while handling the sensitive data discreetly.

Results

In addition to completing the actions above, Syncopated Systems demonstrated how each of the frequent hour-long database searches could be done in just one minute—allowing work to be done about 60 times faster!

The 2006 World Congress on Information Technology successfully drew over 2,000 delegates from over 80 countries.

World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA) 2005-2006

Portable Interactive Game Systems

Situation

A company that had been in operation about 10 years had outsourced development of its first-generation product, systems of portable wirelessly-networked video game machines, which were commercially successful. About five years later, the company had attempted to develop a second-generation product internally by using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies, but could not get the product working, resulting in the thousands of units produced being scrapped. About five years later, the company tried to regain its earlier reputation for innovation by developing a new product, again attempting to develop the product internally, and building on its earlier work.

Before completing the design of its latest product, the company lost its sole hardware developer. The company had leveraged its assets to produce thousands of units, only to find critical flaws that prevented the product from functioning well enough to sell. With the company financially overextended and without a salable product, the company’s executives discussed its liquidation to pay its debts before they were due.

Task

The company needed a quick fix for the improperly designed inventory the company had leveraged its assets to produce.

Action

Within only two weeks, Syncopated Systems analyzed the critical hardware problems, determined their root causes, and created practical modifications to repair the defective inventory. Afterward, Syncopated Systems continued to debug and refine the client’s software stack that appeared to have been “leveraged” from its second-generation attempt, revealing and correcting critical defects in the legacy software that had caused the prior attempt to develop a product to fail.

After discovering a flaw in one desired security mode of the wireless local area network (WLAN/Wi-Fi) adapter—which was available from a only single source—Syncopated Systems developed a wireless network adapter that worked as a drop-in replacement for the flawed unit.

Results

Syncopated Systems developed a practical rework for its defective inventory, enabling the company to to continue its operation by selling and paying for the units it had manufactured. Continued software improvements increased the reliability and performance of the product. The company remains one of the dominant suppliers in its field.

2013-2014

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