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Delivering the World’s First Digital Radar on Chip (RoC)

Parent Category: 2019 HFE

By HFE Staff

Uhnder, a stealth startup company based in Austin, Texas, has developed the world’s first automotive digital radar on chip (RoC). The company, co-founded by Manju Hegde and Curtis Davis in 2015, has been working furiously to transform the automotive industry by delivering a new generation of radar chips capable of achieving unprecedented levels of performance in the new mmWave automotive radar band of 76 GHz to 81 GHz. Sensors based on Uhnder’s digitally coded modulation (DCM) technology easily exceed current requirements for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) for the first three levels of autonomy, which are being planned for production automobiles today, and will scale to the much more stringent requirements as the industry transitions to full autonomy.

Traffic Safety

With traffic accidents causing 1.2 million deaths and 12 million serious injuries each year, not to mention the huge financial toll (car accidents cost the US $230 billion/year), industry and government have taken note and are mandating changes to improve safety. In February 2019, forty countries led by Japan and the European Union - but excluding the US and China - agreed to require new cars and light commercial vehicles to be equipped with Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) systems starting as soon as 2020. The regulation will require all vehicles sold to come equipped with the technology by which sensors monitor how close a pedestrian or object might be. The system can trigger the brakes automatically if a collision is deemed imminent and if the driver doesn’t appear able to respond in time.

The US has been even more proactive about traffic safety. In 2016, 20 US automakers announced with the DoT that they’d voluntarily make AEB standard across their ranges by September 1, 2022. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), those automakers’ cars represent 99 percent of the US market. And China is requiring commercial vehicles to have AEB beginning this year.

To address this mandate, the automotive industry is incorporating more technology into vehicles. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has outlined a progression of levels to facilitate the development of advanced driver assistance systems or ADAS to make vehicles safer.

L0   no autonomy

L1   driver assistance (foot off)

L2   partial automation (hand off)

L3   conditional automation (eyes off)

L4   high automation (mind off)

L5   full automation (no driver)

Levels 1 and 2 include Adaptive Cruise Control, Emergency Braking, and Collision Avoidance (not just collision warning). In order to achieve higher levels of autonomy, automobiles need more accurate and more precise sensors. Most vehicles today use cameras and radar. Cameras provide visual imagery of the surrounding environment but become less effective in bad weather and/or limited light conditions or when encountering distant objects. Radar is impervious to weather and light, but today’s state-of-the-art technology only provides coarse information in terms of an object’s distance and velocity and does not fulfil the promise of range. Moreover, today’s radars also have challenges with discerning objects close together because of the lack of precision.

1904 HFE RoC fg1

Uhnder is delivering a new generation of radar chips capable of achieving new and unprecedented levels of performance. Sensors based on Uhnder’s digitally coded modulation (DCM) technology can effectively see and detect objects and potential threats sooner and with more precision – fundamental to improving vehicle safety, saving lives, and reducing costs by billions of dollars.

Uhnder’s digitally coded modulation (DCM) technology is a leap above currently deployed technology and vastly improves corresponding safety features such as AEB and Collision Avoidance. Uhnder achieves this by implementing DCM on complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) technology, combined with advanced digital processing techniques borrowed from cellular communications. Sensors using DCM can effectively see and detect objects and potential threats sooner and with more precision – fundamental to improving vehicle safety, saving lives, and reducing costs by billions of dollars.

There are three main differences between the current automotive radars and Uhnder’s DCM solution. Conventional automotive radars use Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW), a technique that modulates a sinusoid waveform in frequency to transmit and then capture the “echo” on the receive side. By measuring the frequency difference between the transmitted and the received waveform, typical radar outputs such as range, velocity, and angle of arrival can be inferred.

DCM

Uhnder’s pioneering DCM technology, on the other hand, employs phase to modulate the transmit signal rather than frequency. It digitally codes the phase, essentially spreading the waveform in frequency to improve resolution. As a result, very precise direct measurements can be achieved with an order of magnitude better resolution on all critical parameters. Uhnder combines their DCM technology with advanced MIMO (Multiple-Input-Multiple-Output), a critical 5G communications technology, to enhance the field of view encompassing azimuth and elevation along with range and velocity to achieve a 4D visualization.

Secondly, Uhnder’s choice to use only CMOS, the underpinning technology of the world’s mass market devices, was deliberate and strategic. By using a natively digital architecture, Uhnder can continue to innovate as CMOS process nodes evolve along with Moore’s law, enabling denser, faster, smaller, and lower cost solutions as the transistor elements scale down. Uhnder’s solutions will benefit with each new process geometry introduced by the semiconductor industry, naturally becoming smaller and more powerful as the semiconductor industry evolves.

Finally, Uhnder integrates the entire radar on a single chip (hence RoC): all the RF, the analog front end, the baseband, the digital front end, the digital back end, and the post radar detections signal processing. This enables the best use of CMOS silicon area for performance per watt, allows for optimal division between analog and digital functions, and allows for high bandwidth interfaces between the various segments of the pipeline, whether it is the analog, the digital, or the programmable parts of the chip.

A prototype of Uhnder’s digital RoC is currently being evaluated by global automotive OEMs and the company expects the technology to be available later this year/early 2020.

1904 HFE RoC fg2

Uhnder co-founders Curtis Davis and Manju Hegde.

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