Cars that sense their environment

June 06, 2014 // By Jan Provoost, imec
Cars will soon be able to see and identify the objects all around them in all circumstances, including pitch-black night, heavy rain or deep fog. They will automatically adapt their speed to the surrounding traffic. They will help you change lanes. And they’ll stand on the brakes when a vulnerable road user crosses your path. All this thanks to new developments in radar chip technology. Making traffic more safe for everyone, and bringing autonomous driving a step closer.

Imec, the European nanotech center in Leuven (Belgium), recently made the world's first 79GHz radar transmitter in plain digital 28nm CMOS with an output power above 10dBm.

There are already radar chips out there. But they are fabricated in low volumes and in compound semiconductor dedicated technologies that make them expensive. They are mainly used in military applications, and are beginning to find their way into more expensive vehicles.

Now, with this news, we may see the radars for the masses. Radars that are made in today’s mainstream chip technology. That can be mass-produced at a low cost. Radars that are so small you could easily integrate them invisibly. In a car, but also in a bike helmet, a detection camera, or infrastructure such as automatic lights or door openers.

The most disrupting application however might lie in the field of robotics. Autonomous drones, both aerial and ground-based, can be deployed to deliver parcels, automate warehousing, to clean and maintain, for inspection and surveillance. High-resolution millimeter-wave radar would enable truly autonomous navigation for these robots in all circumstances.

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