Research based in Frankfurt, Germany, and funded by the European Union, has resulted in a new low-cost, fingernail-sized radar chip package that could be implemented in a variety of areas, including the automotive industry, robotics and smartphones.
The chip was developed under the “Silicon-based ultra-compact cost-efficient system design for mm-wave sensors” (or Success) consortium, and is believed to be the smallest complete silicon-based system-on-chip (SoC) device for radar able to operate at frequencies beyond 100 GHz.
“As far as I know, this is the smallest complete radar system in the world,” said Professor Christoph Scheytt, coordinator of the project on behalf of IHP Microelectronics in Frankfurt, Germany. “There are other chips working at frequencies beyond 100 GHz addressing radar sensing, but this is the highest level of integration that has ever been achieved in silicon.”
The chip package measures 8 x 8 mm (0.3 x 0.3 inches), operates at 120 GHz, and can calculate the distance of an object up to around 3 meters (10 feet) away, to an accuracy of within 1 mm. It can also detect moving objects, and their velocity, by using the Doppler effect.
In order to produce a radar system so small, the researchers needed to overcome significant technical challenges. This involved testing multiple antennae to maintain an acceptable size, while also avoiding unwanted electromagnetic radiation and loss of signal due to weather and other conditions. Additionally, a self-test system was also adopted, enabling technicians to easily check the chip is performing as it should.
The winning combination of tiny size and inexpensive manufacturing process, which should allow the chip to be produced for roughly €1 (US$1.29) per unit, opens up possibilities for its implementation in several areas, such as automatic door system controls, cars, robotics, and even smartphones.
The miniature radar chip is the product of three years research, by a total of nine academic and industrial partners based across Europe, and has received EUR €3 million (roughly US$3.9 million) in funding from the European Commission. The Success consortium is now seeking to use the technology commercially, and companies including Bosch, Silicon Radar, and Hightec are looking toward using the chip.