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Ultra-compact radar sensors to advance industrial sensor technology

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt


The best resolution is achieved by radar sensors in which the antennas are also integrated on the semiconductor level or in the chip housing due to the small wavelength. However, the opening up of the frequency range above 100 GHz has so far been hampered by complex assembly and connection technology, which for a long time represented a limitation on the way to low-cost integrated modules.

Now, variants from the “Real100G.RF” project of the German Research Foundation (DFG) are being brought together with circuits from Fraunhofer IAF. From this, the researchers are developing a scalable miniature radar front-end, which will then be evaluated for industrial applicability in cooperation with VEGA Grieshaber KG, a supplier of industrial level and pressure measurement technology.

The project “Scalable THz miniature radar for industrial applications” (SATIRE) is one of six trilateral projects funded by the DFG and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (FhG). The aim is to transfer scientific findings to industry. In the trilateral SATIRE project, companies can participate in innovations from research at an early stage.

This project aims to develop a scalable, highly integrated 300 GHz radar sensor with a bandwidth of over 50 GHz and thus a resolution in the millimetre range. The modules, including the lens, with a maximum size of 10 mm x 10 mm x 7 mm, can be interconnected on a control board to form a MIMO system and can be used individually. This makes the modules particularly suitable for the versatile requirements of industrial sensor technology.


According to participating scientists such as Thomas Zwick, project manager and head of the Institute for High Frequency Technology and Electronics (IHE) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), radar sensors at frequencies above 100 GHz have enormous potential as a supplement to existing optical sensors, whether camera or lidar. “On the one hand, they allow for good resolution and at the same time high robustness, for example against smoke or dust,” says Zwick. To achieve resolution in the millimetre range, the circuit must have an output bandwidth of at least 50 GHz with a switchable transmitter for Time Division Multiplex (TDM) and MIMO operation. Ceramic and plastic lenses are being tested for this purpose. In order to keep the price level low and productivity in manufacturing high, techniques such as 3D printing and injection moulding are also used. With maximum dimensions of 10 mm, the entire component will not be much larger than the lens itself. “With our mini-radar, we are not only improving measurement performance, but also industrial manufacturability,” says Zwick. The small size and precise measurement open up completely new application possibilities. In addition, the architecture with multipliers and an external local oscillator as well as a switchable transmitter allows several radar sensors to be interconnected on one board to form a MIMO radar.

The result is a versatile radar front-end that can be scaled to different systems and is essential for industrial applications, where a large number of applications must be served. The project is characterised by its strong focus on practical applications, giving companies the opportunity to participate in research innovations at an early stage, in this case VEGA.

 

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