There has been a lot of activity recently around next generation radar sensors for automotive applications. These newer “4D radar” units determine an object's location in range, azimuth, elevation, and relative speed to provide detailed information about the driving environment as earlier automotive radar systems only captured speed and azimuth. Radar also works in poor visibility conditions (rain, fog) where Lidar does not. These new radar sensors provide better resolution than previous versions which is where Lidar excels. Here are some of the latest developments in this area.
In Jan, Zadar Labs announced that the company has raised $5.6M in seed funding. Zadar's says it has breakthrough signal processing algorithms, proprietary AI image processing techniques, and in-house antenna design, so their platforms can perform in the horizontal and vertical domains with sub-degree resolution. Zadar has already released their mid-range sensor, zSIGNAL, reaching 250-meter range. The sensor is currently under evaluation by several customers in the autonomous vehicle space. Zadar is looking to further support customers in 2021 through the launch of their long-range sensor, zPRIME. The new platform will be capable of 400-meter range with resolution comparable to LiDAR.
In March, Oculii announced the launch of FALCON and EAGLE leveraging its AI-powered Virtual Aperture Imaging software platform and existing automotive-grade radar hardware. Oculii’s approach uses AI software to greatly improve the performance of current radar sensor technology. Oculii’s AI-powered Virtual Aperture Imaging platform dynamically sends out an adaptive, phase-modulated waveform that changes in real time with the environment and then encodes that data over time, increasing the resolution of any radar hardware up to 100x. This improved resolution and sensitivity unlocks the potential of market proven commercial radars by enabling all-weather sub-degree horizontal and elevation spatial resolution up to 350 meters around a full 360-degree field of view. EAGLE is a commercial 4D imaging radar, delivering joint 0.5 degrees H x 1 degree V spatial resolution across a wide 120 degrees H 30 degrees V instantaneous field of view. EAGLE delivers the spatial resolution of an 8-chip cascaded radar (24T32R) on a cost-effective, low-power 2-chip (6T8R) hardware platform. Using cost- and power-efficient DSPs for processing rather than FPGAs, EAGLE consumes less than 5 W of total power and is smaller than an index card, enabling discrete integration options that preserve the aesthetics of the autonomous platform. FALCON is a compact 4D imaging radar, delivering high-resolution performance in a 5 x 5 cm package that is smaller than a business card. FALCON has 2-degree horizontal resolution across a wide 120-degree field of view and can simultaneously measure elevation of the targets as well. Four FALCON sensors fused together can provide a 360-degree bubble of safety up to 200 meters in all directions and be effective in all environmental conditions. Built on a single-chip (3T4R), low-power, cost-effective hardware platform, FALCON consumes less than 2.5 W of power and is smaller than a business card, enabling it to be leveraged effectively in a corner-radar automotive ADAS application or an autonomous robotic application where energy efficiency is critical. While EAGLE and FALCON are full-stack sensor solutions, Oculii’s Virtual Aperture Imaging platform is hardware agnostic, highly modular and available for licensing.
In April, Uhnder and Yunshan Technologies delivered a digital perception radar sensor solution for use in autonomous trucks operating in shipping ports. China Merchants Port (CMPort) is a recognized early technology adopter and is deploying digital perception radar in a fleet of autonomous trucks operating at its Mawan Smart Port in Shenzhen. The Mawan Smart Port is CMPort’s leading project site for the deployment of the latest intelligent port technologies. The Uhnder digital perception radar solution provides high-precision data to ensure an autonomous truck arrives in the correct position, to within 5 cm, for automated container movement between the ship and storage or departure areas. Uhnder’s digital perception radar technology enables a large number of co-located radars operating within the industrial port to co-exist reliably. This is a challenge that analog radar solutions have not been able to meet. The Uhnder digital perception radar solution generates a rich 4D point cloud with the ability to detect and track thousands of objects. It has high contrast resolution capability enables perception solutions to clearly identify closely spaced objects common in the port setting, for example, a worker next to a container. The sensor solution uses a digital code modulation that results in best-in-class interference immunity performance. The company noted that 12 radar units are typically used on each autonomous truck and are resistant to interference due to their CDMA inspired coded modulation scheme. There are about 1018 code possibilities so the probability for interference is very low. In addition, their radar units have about 35 dB of high contrast resolution compared to current radar units that have much lower contrast resolution.
In May, Vayyar Imaging launched the industry’s first multi-range “XRR” chip, a single RFIC with a range of 0 to 300 m, designed for passenger cars, trucks and motorcycles. Supported by a 48-antenna MIMO array, the leading-edge platform provides radar imaging with unprecedented accuracy for numerous safety applications, without the need for external processors. With an ultra-wide field of view and rich 4D point cloud imaging, it delivers excellent multifunctionality on a single-chip platform, supporting dozens of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), advanced rider assistance systems (ARAS) and autonomy features. This eliminates the need for multiple, costly vehicle sensors and reduces costs, complexity, hardware, software, power consumption, wiring and integration efforts.
Also in May, Arbe announced its 4D Imaging Radar Solution with 2K resolution is available on the open NVIDIA DRIVE platform. Arbe's imaging radar availability aims to accelerate the development of autonomous vehicles. By allowing leading OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers to access the 4D imaging radar data on NVIDIA's AV platform, Arbe's solution can serve as the basis for advanced safety applications, sensor fusion, and perception algorithm development. NVIDIA DRIVE is a scalable, software-defined, end-to-end AI platform for the transportation industry, delivering the computing horsepower and software necessary for highly automated and autonomous driving. Hundreds of companies around the world are developing on NVIDIA DRIVE, including auto- and truck makers, Tier 1 suppliers, robotaxis, sensor and mapping companies and AV startups.
In June, Infineon released XENSIV™ radar sensors, AURIX™ microcontrollers and OPTIREG™ PMICs, for an ultra-wideband, ultra-low power and cost-performance scalable architecture for ICMS sub-systems. The devices support the use of new signal processing techniques enabling robustness and a good compromise between computational costs, the degree of information as well as the power consumption of the system. The XENSIV BGT60ATR24C radar sensor is a cognitive sensing solution with multiple transmit/receive for virtual array configurations, a highly agile modulation generation mechanism, automatic power mode configurability as well as simplified interfaces between RF and the processing side. The AURIX TC3xx MCU family combines performance with a powerful safety architecture. The family integrates a fast radar signal processing unit and enhanced security with the second-generation of the hardware security module. This includes asymmetric cryptography accelerators and full EVITA support. This sensor-MCU combination makes Infineon’s 60 GHz automotive portfolio ideal for ICMS applications. In addition, the partnerships with bitsensing, a South Korean imaging radar technology start-up, and Caaresys, a start-up based in Israel, enables customers to accelerate their development cycle. Infineon has had the XENSIV radar sensor since last year with many announcements and collaborations with companies including Arrow Electronics (Feb), Blumio (last June) and others.
Magna International recently announced that its ICON Radar will debut on the Fisker Ocean next year marking the first application of digital radar for driver-assisted technology. Magna and Austin, Texas-based Uhnder partnered to develop the technology, which continuously scans its full environment in 4D, resulting in higher resolution and better contrast than analog radar. The ICON Radar has the power to sense moving or standing objects of all sizes at both short and long distances. Uhnder’s technology allows objects to be resolved in difficult situations where an object with a small radar signature can be detected against one with a larger signal and works in “noisy” environments as it uses technology similar to CDMA. ICON Radar eliminates interference concerns as each digital radar has a quintillion unique codes embedded into the signal it transmits, helping minimize the negative effects of mutual interference. Magna’s agreement to acquire Veoneer was announced July 22 and will further strengthen the company’s radar portfolio. Veoneer has produced more than 40 million radar sensors (an Autoliv spinoff that was acquired from MACOM). ICON Radar is one part of the full portfolio of ADAS sensor solutions that Magna offers, providing automakers a full-systems approach to bringing ADAS technology to their vehicles. But on August 5, Qualcomm offered 18.4% more after the board had accepted the Magna offer, so we will have to see what happens there.
Around the same time, Metawave Corp. announced delivery of the automotive industry’s first 76-81 GHz beamformer chip alpha samples and evaluation boards to MIRISE Technologies, the joint venture between DENSO and Toyota Motor Corporation. MIRISE was launched last year to focus on next-generation in-vehicle semiconductors, and from its inception, has worked closely with the Metawave team to evaluate the beamformer chip and the beamsteering radar. In 2020, Metawave successfully demonstrated the industry’s first analog beamsteering radar, SPEKTRA™, using its initial discrete phase-shifter components. SPEKTRA radar can clearly and consistently detect vehicles beyond 300 meters and pedestrians beyond 200 meters with the high angular resolution and accuracies at these long ranges. Metawave is the only automotive radar company to demonstrate a calibrated phased array and front-end solution that enables analog beamforming signals using a single, conventional Frequency-Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) radar chip developed by Texas Instruments (TI). The SPEKTRA radar uses Metawave’s MARCONI™ beamformer chip for multi-channel operation at 77 GHz. The MARCONI antenna in package can steer a focused, high-gain beam while running advanced Virtual MIMO Array algorithms giving SPEKTRA radar-based platforms an edge over conventional, purely digital radars according to the company.
And in early August, Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF), the Boston-based robotics company in smart following technology, announced a new sensor technology for implementation not only in consumer and business robots but also in scooters and motorcycles. PFF’s hardware-software modules offer uncompromising safety by providing robust monitoring in all environmental and lighting conditions. PFF awarded a supply contract for the modules’ radar-on-chip to Vayyar Imaging, marking the deployment of the industry's first ever 4D imaging radar-based motorcycle safety platform. The complete sensor package is developed, built and supplied by PFF for mass production in Piaggio Group motorcycles’ advanced rider assistance systems (ARAS). The PFF modules support functions such as blind spot detection, lane change assist and forward collision warning with a single sensor supporting a range of over 100 m, and an ultra-wide field-of-view. PFF robots incorporating the radar technology are expected to be released at the end of 2021, with Piaggio Group motorcycle models equipped with the PFF sensor module launching in 2022.
There has been so much activity in this area that I sure I have missed some announcements but think this is a good summary. You can listen to our online panel session “Taking Automotive Radar Sensors to the Next Level” for some perspectives on this technology.