Tiny Radar Camera Microchip Packs A Big Punch

In the future, radar cameras for use in satellites could be made a hundred times smaller with this millimeter-long chip, without compromising on image quality.

AsianScientist (Mar. 1, 2016) – A research team in Singapore has developed a tiny microchip that effectively allows for palm-sized radar cameras a hundred times smaller than current ones.

Despite their size, they can produce images of the same quality as conventional radar cameras; if not better. They are also 20 times cheaper to produce and consume at least 75 percent less power. Developed by scientists at Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore), the promising technology is now being researched for use in unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites.

Current radar cameras are usually up to two meters in length and can weigh up to 200 kg. They cost more than US$1 million on the market and can consume over a thousand watts in electricity per hour—the energy equivalent of a household air-conditioning unit running for an hour.

Unlike optical cameras which cannot work well at night due to lack of light or cloudy weather, these Synthetic Aperture Radar cameras use microwaves, so they can operate well in all weather conditions and can even penetrate through foliage. These large radar cameras are often carried by large satellites and aircraft that produce detailed images of the Earth’s surface.

However, the huge size, prohibitive costs and energy consumption are deterrents for use in smaller vehicles. In contrast, the millimeter-long chip developed by NTU can be packaged into a module measuring 3 x 4 x 5 cm and weighing less than 100 grams.

Production costs can go as low as US$10,000 per unit, while power consumption can go up to 200 watts depending on its application; similar to power-efficient LED TVs or a ceiling fan. It can also capture images twice as detailed as the conventional radar cameras used in large aircrafts or satellites.

Lead researcher Assistant Professor Zheng Yuanjin said that the size and effectiveness of the chip will open up new applications that were previously not possible.

“We have significantly shrunk the conventional radar camera into a system that is extremely compact and affordable; yet provides better accuracy,” said Zheng. “This will enable high resolution imaging radar technology to be used in objects and applications never before possible, like small drones, driverless cars and small satellite systems.”

“Driverless cars will also be able to better scan the environment around them to avoid collisions and navigate more accurately in all weather conditions compared to current laser and optical technologies,” he added.


Source: Nanyang Technological University.
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