The future is being created in Melatener Street in Aachen, in a building that – of all things – seems to have fallen out of time. The freestanding university building belongs to RWTH Aachen, Germany's largest university for technical degrees. This is where Thomas Dallmann works with his research group, which is actually part of the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR in Wachtberg. Thomas Dallmann, who is in his mid-thirties, takes his visitors to the first floor of the institute to present a core element of his work.
Dallmann reports on a research project that makes it easier than before for customers in the automotive sector and for suppliers to test new radars. ATRIUM is a type of virtual environment that can be adapted to a wide range of different vehicle types to accurately examine the behavior of a new technology even in complex traffic situations – for a faster, more cost-efficient development of new, error-free radars. After all, radar sensors will become even more relevant in the future as they, instead of the passengers, continuously monitor traffic in driverless cars. Today radar sensors already recognize obstacles by themselves to initiate braking actions. »These types of sensors are currently being tested by driving thousands of kilometers.« Thomas Dallmann stares out of the window, lost in thought. »This is an extremely time-consuming and cost-intense process – a process that still leaves a lot to be desired.« With ATRIUM, many of these tests can be moved to the lab; this can be shown with the simulator version connected here today. »Using radar target sensors, we can replicate driving scenarios to simulate entire echo landscapes,« explains Dallmann. »Radar sensors based on sending signals and then receiving their reflections need these echo landscapes to be able to detect and analyze the surrounding objects by means of the received signals.« People, traffic lights, trees, cars: Dallmann is certain that ATRIUM will soon be capable of generating up 300 reflections. »With this, we can fully and realistically test new sensors for autonomous driving.«
Thomas Dallmann is confident that the presence of radar systems is set to increase – way beyond the field of autonomous driving. »Radar networks are becoming increasingly relevant – especially in light of intelligent, networked factories that will barely be able to function without radar,« says the scientist. Overall, however, the applications are getting smaller and smaller – as with the gesture-controlled Google smartphone Pixel 4, which already recognizes small finger movements with the radar chip 'Soli'.
Incidentally, Dallmann himself already participated in the German youth science competition »Jugend forscht« with a radio direction finding system before studying Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at the University of Excellence RWTH Aachen. After that, he first worked for RWTH's Institute of High Frequency Technology as a Research Scientist and then as the Team Leader of Fraunhofer FHR's Research Group Aachen.»Our location right in the middle of the university, kind of like a Fraunhofer satellite, provides a knowledge transfer that is equally beneficial for both research and the university.« The researcher starts to gush on the drive to the Fraunhofer Institute in Wachtberg. »Fraunhofer FHR is one of the world's largest radar institutes. It is impressive to see the huge range here, that radar technology offers in research and in application.«
The Fraunhofer Institute Thomas Dallmann belongs to is located in Wachtberg, near Bonn, and can be recognized from afar thanks to its special landmark: With its 47.5 meters in diameter, it's impossible to miss the circular radar dome of the space observation radar TIRA. TIRA is used to help develop radar techniques to capture and reconnoiter objects in space – from intercontinental missiles all the way to electronics waste – for space agencies around the world. It is rare, however, to find the researcher inside the ball, which is unique in all of Europe: While the radome on site is the world's largest, he and his research group, quite to the contrary, work on the smallest of radar applications in the form of sensors. But Thomas Dallmann is absolutely certain: »They will also make it big now!«