Auto Electronics

Tapping Radar Technology For Automotive Safety

Microwave and millimeter wave-based radio detection and ranging (radar) systems for detecting and locating objects and measuring distance or altitude, as well as other applications, are synonymous with military and aerospace systems. But, with the maturity of technology and advances in semiconductor integration and manufacturing, coupled with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opening 71 GHz-76 GHz, 81 GHz-86 GHz and 92 GHz-95 GHz bands for commercial deployment, that scenario is rapidly changing. Consequently, the next wave of advanced automotive safety systems are taking advantage of these developments. And radar technology is making inroads into the automotive platform.

With emphasis on improving automotive safety for drivers, as well as passengers, and reducing road fatalities, such radars are not only being touted for collision avoidance and warning, but also for side- and rear-looking sensors for lane changing, back-up warning, to detect object’s in a driver’s blind spot and parking assistance. Only available in high-end automobiles at present, cost reductions in millimeter wave and monolithic microwave IC (MMIC) manufacturing could lead to significant deployment in all types of automobiles in the near future.

That radar technology is coming soon to the dealer near you was evident at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, NV where semiconductor manufacturers and tier 1 suppliers were demonstrating their achievements. Although concept vehicles were demonstrated at the turn of the century, recent advances in MMIC integration and manufacturing is making it feasible for automotive applications. Meanwhile, to cut costs, some are using and others are investigating laser identification radar (lidar) as a cost-effective alternative to millimeter wave radar.

Delphi, for instance, unwrapped its next-generation Forewarn Back-up Aid system—an integrated system featuring radar technology, extended sensing range and resistance to interference from rain, snow, dirt, mud and noise. Improvements include an integrated dual radar receiver and a visual range indicator. The dual radar design extends the sensing range to 16 feet, while broadening the coverage areas behind the corners of the vehicle. This improvement enables Forewarn to be three times more responsive than conventional offerings. In addition, the supplier has developed other systems for front and side object detection. The front object detection system uses a multifunctional, mechanically scanning, long-range 77 GHz radar sensor to detect and classify vehicles in a truck’s path up to 150 meters (402 feet) ahead. While the side object detector’s 24 GHz short-range Forewarn radar sensor alerts the driver to vehicles or objects in adjacent lanes. For blind spot detection, 24 GHz is also on the radar screen of Siemens VDO Automotive and Valeo.

TRW Automotive’s adaptive cruise control (ACC) subsidiary late last year unveiled its next-generation AC20 radar system. The enhanced radar technology will launch on a D segment platform of a major German vehicle manufacturer this spring.

The new radar is half the size and weight of TRW’s AC10 model at signi-ficantly reduced cost. The 77 GHz radar system offers several enhanced driver assistance function options. Similar technology is also being ex-ploited by Robert Bosch Corp. for ACC development. However, Omron Automotive Electronics has developed Lidar sensors for detecting vehicles and pedestrians with high precision, and extended the tech-nology for applications such as ACC, which automatically maintains a safe driving distance between vehicles. Denso amongst others has also taken the Lidar route for ACC.

But, as voiced by analysts like ABI Research, for the technology to proliferate from high-end to low-end vehicles in the near future, the industry must work toward stand-ardizing vehicle safety systems.

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