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Fingernail-sized radar chip could be used in future smartphones


November 25, 2012

The "smallest complete radar system in the world" could be used in the automotive industry, robotics and smartphones (Image: Shutterstock)

The "smallest complete radar system in the world" could be used in the automotive industry, robotics and smartphones (Image: Shutterstock)

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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.

Source: CORDIS

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

Will smartphones never stop getting more capable?

Joel Detrow

How many can function before they are jamming each other?


Interesting, but maybe a solution looking for a problem ?

Martin Hone

@ Joel - Yep. As soon as there is no more room for the actual phone function.


@Martin Hone surely automatic doors are the problem being solved? I mean currently the infra-red detects only movement and frequently people are hit by the doors if they move slowly, old or less able people being an example?

Also useful for automatic parking cars, collision avoidance, pre-emeptive air-bag/seatbelt activation.

The list extensive if you think about it.


I want one to combine with some Lego and a laser. Should make for a pretty fun anti-mosquito (with some safety measures to make sure no harm comes to non-targets).


Is this the essential ingredient to allow infotainment in automobiles while the pilot or driver is otherwise engadged? Smartphones will become an essential ingredient in future generations of auto's and trucks.

George Ganak

So cool! Combined with the 3-axis accelerometer on a chip and you've got really cheap positional and attitude awareness. Awareness to 3m distance is perfect for a slow moving toy. There are going to be some really really cool autonomous bots coming based on this: better robotic vacuum cleaners for one. It's important to foresee the evil purposes this will be used for as well. I could easily imagine this technology helping to enable tiny little assassin robots that can fly in hard and fast and shoot poisoned darts, then self destruct.


Will an app be able to use this chip to create a, very hard to detect, radar detector?

Jeff Haddrick

re; Jeff Haddrick

Most police are using lidar instead of radar both to defeat radar detectors and prevent claims that it was a different vehicle or the top of the tires that the speed was taken from. They also said something about safety.


I'm not certain it would be of too much use in a cell phone. Perhaps i just don't see the possibilities, but if they can give you ten feet in a micro chip then what could they do with one the size of a smartphone...half a mile, a mile? that has applications that are not so hard to envision.

I think we've exceded practicality in miniaturizing some things, the sixth generation iPod Nano was too small for me to read and use without trouble, slim cell phone designs tend to slip out of my large hands...i imagine the larger smart phones give small handed people the same trouble. Ergonomics seem to be taking a back seat to the 'smaller is better' movement, and that's a sad trend for consumers. I'd love to see higher capacity batteries and longer runtimes in exchange for some fractionally larger devices.

John Parkes

Apps for: microradar for Smart Cars IE driverless autos. elevator doors. Medical equip Telemedicine. Security blind persons cane use. reuse for celphones. door activation etc.

Stephen Russell

One more step on the road to making my phone a tri-corder. Next I want a single chip Mass-Spec so I can make air quality samples and get readouts. A gieger counter would be nice as well


A dollar thirty YES PLEASE lets start with a usb stick?


livin_the_dream, you are in my field now. You would have to be dead before an automatic door would hit you (assuming it is installed correctly and functioning as designed) . They are VERY sensitive, as a detector and few people can stand still enough, long enough for them to be ignored. These sensors now read the area, and make a sketch in their memory as to what is normal, and have some learning capability for when plants and boxes, or other things are changed. When they read a problem, they relearn the area. And their range is WELL beyond 3 meters. An automated door, triggered by this new radar sensor, would not have enough time to trigger and open the door fully. It could not react fast enough, and people DO walk into doors what fail to open. Doors DO NOT hit people, unless there is a failure of hardware, or software.



what type of sensors are used, didn't think infrared where stable/accurate enough. Ultrasonic, pressure mats?

BTW do a search on the www and find claims for injuries from automatic doors. For example:

if these claims are indeed true!


it looks like there are two bidirectional antennas, presumably one for transmit and the other for receive. But maybe a metal reflector on one side of the chip would make it unidirectional.

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