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Microchip shrinks radar camera technology by 100 times

Tue 23 Feb 2016

NTU radar camera chip

Scientists have designed a tiny chip which is able to outperform existing radar technology, producing higher-quality images than a standard 200kg camera.

The team, based at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, has developed the microchip over the last three years. The design enables the device to capture radar images whatever the light or weather conditions.

Typical radar cameras, otherwise known as Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) systems, are used in large satellite applications and aircraft to produce detailed images of the earth’s surface, which aid in monitoring traffic, urban density and natural disasters, among many other purposes. They generally weigh up to 200kg and measure between half and two metres in length. These devices also cost in the region of US$1mn (approx. £708,000), and can consume more than 1,000 watts in electricity every hour.

Now, six engineers have discovered a new technology which is able to shrink the capability of traditional cameras into a chip a hundred times smaller, 20 times cheaper to produce and 75% more efficient than current ones.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 10.49.56Unlike optical cameras which cannot function at night or in cloudy weather due to insufficient light, the new chip also uses microwaves (X-band or Ku-band) to capture radar images, so it is able to operate effectively in all weather and light conditions, and even through foliage.

Its developers have suggested that the palm-sized chip could be integrated in a variety of future applications including driverless car technology, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and small satellites.

“We have significantly shrunk the conventional radar camera into a system that is extremely compact and affordable, yet provides better accuracy. This will enable high resolution imaging radar technology to be used in objects and applications never before possible,” noted assistant professor Zheng Yuanjin, who led the research.

Several key industry names have already shown interest in the technology such as the U.S.-based Space X and Japanese electronics company Panasonic.

The scientists have received S$2.5mn (approx. £1.3mn) in research funding from the Singaporean government, and their chip is now being developed to work inside national satellites within the next six years.

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