Case Study Snapshot
- Company: Contacta Systems Ltd.
- Profile: Founded in 1970, Contacta designs and manufactures assistive listening technology solutions to create inclusive environments
- Size: <50 employees
- Project vertical: Assistive listening systems
- Challenge: Develop a new generation of reliable, loop drivers that use a full graphical and highly intuitive LCD front panel, with in-built internet connectivity
- Solution: Linux BSP configuration and drivers for the custom baseboard and SnapUI for GUI using small footprint LCD, including web interface for device remote control
- Services: Software development, fast UI development, hardware expertise
- Impact: Client now has a next-generation all-in-one technical loop driver with internet capability; a new and comprehensive product that will contribute to maintaining and improving its position in the industry.
Contacta launched several UK firsts including computerised intercom and speech transfer systems (which it still specialises in) as well as secure transfer units, assistive listening systems and their installation and maintenance. The company is a leading UK manufacturer of hearing loops.
The family-owned business has worked with high-profile UK and international clients including:
- NASA Kennedy Space Centre
- Ministry of Defence
- Marks & Spencer
- Yehudi Menuhin School
- National Trust
Its cutting-edge technology is used in one-to-one communications systems and large auditoria. It was also recently nominated for two AV awards.
The company wanted to expand its high-end product range with the release of a new generation of products using a full LCD front panel with built-in internet connectivity for system performance monitoring and management.
Until now, Contacta’s in-house development team had successfully rolled out new assistive listening devices. As demand increased for more sophisticated large loop drivers, Contacta required external expertise with specific Linux development and application understanding.
A hearing loop system transmits an audio signal directly into a hearing aid via a magnetic field. The original sound source is connected to the audio induction loop driver. The driver generates a current which delivers the signal to a loop made from copper tape or wire.
A large loop driver works in big rooms or auditoriums. Here, a loop of cable is laid within the room. The driver will be connected to that loop. Also connected to this driver is a microphone or similar to pick up and clarify the required sound source.
With open-source frameworks and solutions offering flexibility, Contacta had a clear idea that they wanted a graphical application running on Linux and a System on Module (SoM) based central processor. They needed a company capable of dealing with both requirements, as well as being able to provide fast UI development.
As the firm was introducing new hardware, it was all the more important that any new software partner apply electronics hardware expertise to the development process.
After looking at several potential embedded electronics design specialists, Contacta selected ByteSnap Design to support its efforts to develop the loop driver.
Well-established and with highly skilled engineers, ByteSnap Design has expertise in Linux BSP porting and graphical applications running on Linux, as well as electronic hardware. It could therefore bridge the necessary gaps between hardware and software elements of the project.
Collaboration occurred throughout the project with a series of online and in-person meetings to establish a good understanding of product requirements. Contacta introduced its prototype hardware design to ByteSnap and the two companies worked closely to implement the requirements.
ByteSnap analysed Contacta’s existing software to determine what enhancements were necessary to support the large loop drivers. The previous solution was only able to receive information, and so the ByteSnap team engineered the system to enable it to send data up to the cloud too.
This removed the need for separate hardware for remote condition monitoring.
Now with internet connection, alerts are more efficient.
For the custom baseboard, ByteSnap carried out Linux BSP configuration and also configured the drivers. In addition, they developed the driver for the rotary encoder from scratch, and worked with the DSP team to provide compatible communications with the low-level amplifier parts of the system and technical input into the project.
The software design consultancy was also selected for its lightweight and powerful user interface (UI) development tool SnapUI, which supported the GUI application and provided an HMI interface on the front LCD pane.
SnapUI proved an excellent fit as it streamlines the UI prototyping and building process. It also allows graphic designers to edit an application’s user interface independently from the core of the application itself.
Therefore, designers can amend the user interface design and enables developers concentrate on core application functionality at the same time – helping to reduce development time and improve project efficiency.
For the UI, at every stage, ByteSnap helped the designers to tune what was possible. The prototyping was carried out on a PC, providing in-house graphic designers easy access and ability to update the data to be displayed in the final GUI application.
The original small display has been revamped to provide complex menus and wizards to replace simple left/right and press interactions. Using SnapUI, ByteSnap was able to provide a high level of customisation.
Working with ByteSnap has resulted in a number of benefits for Contacta:
- Accelerated and reliable launch to market of a new and complex product, which has led to increased market share.
- Confident first steps into advanced loop driver technology, which would have otherwise been outside Contacta’s in-house expertise.
- Production times and time to market were reduced as ByteSnap had software elements for the loop driver in place so they did not need to be specifically developed for this project.
- Project risk lowered due to ByteSnap’s Linux software development and GUI expertise.