Competitive threats and commoditization—In addition to regulatory hurdles, the drone market is increasingly competitive, which creates pricing pressure. Drawn by UAVs’ attractive growth potential and “cool” factor, more than 400 companies worldwide are already involved in drone-related development. The focus for most of these companies is differentiated hardware, rather than emphasizing the value-added services their drones may enable.
Limited RF and microwave expertise—To achieve widespread use, commercial and consumer drones must be equipped with navigational sensors that ensure safe and reliable autonomous operation. As in the automotive and industrial equipment markets, many of these wireless sensors use RF and microwave technology. Yet most commercial companies developing drones are startups with limited expertise in RF and microwave design. Even well-established industrial equipment manufacturers with some RF experience are hard-pressed to quickly evaluate, design and manufacture radar sensor solutions for the fast changing UAV market.
The lack of RF expertise and readily available radar solutions creates a challenging cycle for the industry: the UAV market’s inability to offer reliable sensors to help ensure safe and reliable autonomous operation prevents government agencies from relaxing the regulations that restrict autonomous drone operation.
RADAR TO THE RESCUE
At Analog Devices, we believe UAV manufacturers have an opportunity to influence regulatory policies governing drone operation by embracing the RF, microwave and mmWave technology that can enable the sensors needed to prove the safe, reliable navigation of drones. A 24 GHz radar, operating in the globally recognized industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) band, is one example of a basic and versatile sensor for multiple use cases. An ISM band radar at 24 GHz can be used without regulation anywhere in the world for functions such as automatic collision avoidance and radio altimeters. In addition to measuring how high the drone is flying, the same radar can detect and track multiple objects—two of the most basic requirements for safe drone operation.
By proving their solutions are technically capable of operating autonomously, UAV manufacturers will be able to influence the existing regulations, rather than waiting for regulators to define the way the industry should operate. To reach this point, UAV manufacturers need to take three steps:
- Develop a basic understanding of radar and its various modes
- Understand the components of the RF signal chain required for a complete radar solution
- Adopt radar solutions that provide a complete hardware setup with the software algorithms to allow them to get to market faster.
The following discussion provides an overview of these steps and a potential solution to help UAV manufacturers adopt 24 GHz radar for collision avoidance and radio altimeter applications.
Basics of Radar
Radar sensors are commonly used in the automotive and industrial markets to detect, measure and track objects, e.g., blind spot detection and automotive driver assistance systems (ADAS). Compared to optical or ultrasonic sensors, radar can accurately detect and measure objects over a much longer range and wider field of view in very difficult environments, including dust, smoke, snow, fog and poor lighting. A typical radar has various modes, each best depending on what needs to be detected and tracked.