Erik Vlietinck: How the EU-funded Radar Sensor Works

Sensor chip of SUCCESS
Written by Erik Vlietinck

Our European correspondent Erik Vlietinck explains an EU-funded radar sensor — what it is, how it works and possible applications.

Squeezing into a tight parking space is annoying for a lot of people. That’s why researchers working on a European-funded project say they have developed a thumb tack-sized device — it’s called the Radar Sensor — to make the job easier.

The SUCCESS consortium has developed a fully-integrated 122GHz Radar sensor. SUCCESS grouped researchers from Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Poland and Switzerland. It received almost three million (euro) of funding from the EU.

What is intriguing about this sensor tech is that it integrates all relevant radio-frequency components into one chip housing. Users can solder the chip onto their standard circuit boards and receive low frequency signals that can be processed without difficulty.

At 8mm x 8mm, the chip is smaller than a eurocent. It includes a mixed-signal Silicon Germanium (SiGe) chip and two antennas for transmitting and receiving. The prototype is said to be a breakthrough towards a miniaturized, low-cost and high-resolution millimeter-wave sensor for distance and speed measurements.

The applications for radar sensors such as this one include industrial sensing, motion detection even when placed behind wallpaper, wheel suspension measurement for cars. It’s an ideal replacement of cheap ultra-sonic sensors, reps say.

Measurements are accurate to within 1mm. Velocity is measured via the Doppler effect. The integration of the digital-baseband processor, data converters, and mm-Wave circuitry on the same chip can cut fabrication costs to well below 1 euro.

The sensor is based on a mixed signal chip fabricated in a 0.13 µm SiGe BiCMOS technology. The homodyne transceiver includes a 120GHz Voltage-Controlled-Oscillator, several amplifiers, an IQ-mixer and filters. Additional circuits let the unit perform a power-on and frequency self-test.

In addition to vehicle environment detection, potential applications include remote control of industrial robots, door and gate motion sensors and the automatic deactivation of drilling machines when they reach the right depth.

SUCCESS, I should say, stands for Silicon-based Ultra Compact Cost-Efficient System Design — for mmWave-Sensors. Spelling out that name takes up more space than the chip itself has available. Now, that’s one way to spell success. I’ll be following this tech for you.

For in Europe, I’m Erik Vlietinck.