Radar in the fast lane

Radar is now used in all forms of transport: in cars, ships and aircraft. Fraunhofer FHR develops intelligent sensors to enhance traffic safety.


Smaller, less expensive, smarter

In the past, radar devices were expensive and cumbersome. However, thanks to the growing trend towards miniaturization, the devices can now be produced in a cost-effective and compact manner. Modern high frequency sensors are now used in a wide range of vehicles. Radar offers numerous possibilities, particularly for air, sea and traffic applications. Fraunhofer FHR therefore investigates ways of leveraging this potential in various research projects.

Due to the extensive research it conducted over the last decades, the institute now has sound physical, engineering and mathematical expertise. The technical equipment is state-of-the-art. Its work focuses on finding efficient and relatively prompt solutions for problems that arise during the development of a new product. This reduces the development risk for customers as the scientists continuously deal with all aspects of the task on hand. The service spectrum offered to partners ranges from feasibility studies and system design to the construction of prototypes. Moreover, the scientists specialize, above all, in the provision of solutions for problems that are both challenging and demanding.

Invisible high-performance antennas

At the request of its partners, Fraunhofer FHR develops new hardware concepts – beginning with the chip and antenna design – in joint research projects. The solution provided is fully in line with the precise requirements. The combination with sophisticated signal processing, a further core competency of the institute, guarantees the provision of a tailor-made system, whereby price and functionality always play a central role. This is demonstrated by the current activities of Fraunhofer FHR in cooperation with a longstanding customer from the automotive sector: here, the scientists are developing antennas and high frequency circuits for a 24-gigahertz radar system which is being continuously improved. The driver assistance system has already been installed a million times over in over 40 vehicle types.

The expertise in the area of circuit design is complemented by the ability to identify the optimal mounting point for the antenna using electromagnetic modeling, as the performance of an antenna is influenced by the design and the materials that are used. The institute develops high-performance, interference-free and structurally integrated antennas for vehicles with aerodynamic designs. The applications for this technology extend from manned or unmanned aircraft in different sizes and land vehicles to large ships. The antennas are used for navigation and communication.

Smart sensors for a small price

Maritime transport is another important application area for radar. The strengths of radar technology and highly developed signal processing compared to optical systems are very apparent, above all, in cases of reduced visibility, e.g. fog, rain or smoke. Radar is not affected by these environmental conditions. The fact that the scientists also have innovative solutions at hand for maritime navigation will therefore not come as a great surprise: an array antenna with electronic scanning replaces the mechanically rotating antenna. In keeping with the Fraunhofer principle – innovative and economic products for practical applications – the researchers at FHR have made this technology affordable for the mass market. The scientists at FHR were awarded a patent for their innovative high-frequency distribution and aggregation network concept. The maritime radar will undergo a number of tests in 2016 prior to commercialization. The advantages of maritime radar: low maintenance, flexible installation, ability to detect and track more and smaller targets compared to conventional radar systems, operation with lower transmit power and production costs that are similar to those of existing systems.

The trend towards software-defined radar opens a wide range of application possibilities, e.g. in the automotive area. In the future, cognitive radar systems will be able to adapt operating parameters and the waveform to the surrounding environment: multi-functional close- and long-range sensors, which are used for pedestrian detection and which, in addition to the radar function, can also carry out car-to-car communication tasks, are now within our grasp. Innovative applications, e.g. in the area of autonomous driving, will make increasing use of intelligent sensor systems and profit from adaptive signal processing.

Fraunhofer FHR has set new standards in the construction of low-cost, customer-specific systems: its competence in the area of silicon-germanium semiconductor technology (SiGe) facilitates the development of low-cost, highly integrated components. Thanks to the technologies, processes and systems that are developed at Fraunhofer FHR, new and innovative application possibilities are now being opened up in numerous areas. The institute aims to increase the improvement potential of products and create added value.