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79 GHz CMOS RADAR Chips for Cars from Imec and Infineon

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By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

As unveiled at the annual Imec Technology Forum in Brussels (itf2016.be), Infineon Technologies AG (infineon.com) and imec (imec.be) are working on highly integrated CMOS-based 79 GHz sensor chips for automotive radar applications. Imec provides expertise in high-frequency system, circuit, and antenna design for radar applications, complementing Infineon’s knowledge from the many learnings that go along with holding the world’s top market share in commercial radar sensor chips. Infineon and imec expect functional CMOS sensor chip samples in the third quarter of 2016. A complete radar system demonstrator is scheduled for the beginning of 2017.

Whether or not fully automated cars and trucks will be traveling on roads soon, today’s drivers want more sensors to be able to safely avoid accidents in conditions of limited visibility. Typically, there are up to three radar systems in today’s vehicle equipped with driver assistance functions. In a future with fully automated cars, up to ten radar systems and ten more sensor systems using cameras or lidar (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lidar) could be needed. Short-range radar (SRR) would look for side objects, medium-range radar (MRR) would scan widely for objects up to 50m in front and in back, and long-range radar (LRR) would focus up to 250m in front and in back for high-speed collision avoidance.

“Infineon enables the radar-based safety cocoon of the partly and fully automated car,” said Ralf Bornefeld, Vice President & General Manager, Sense & Control, Infineon Technologies AG. “In the future, we will manufacture radar sensor chips as a single-chip solution in a classic CMOS process for applications like automated parking. Infineon will continue to set industry standards in radar technology and quality.”

The Figure shows the evolution of radar technology over the last decades, leading to the current miniaturization using solid-state silicon CMOS. Key to the successful development of this 79 GHz demonstrator was choosing to use 28 nm CMOS technology. Imec has been refining this technology as shown at ISSCC (isscc.org) for many years, first showing a 28nm transmitter chip in 2013, then showing a 28nm transmit and receive (a.k.a. “transceiver”) chip in 2014, and finally showing a single-chip with a transceiver and analog-digital converters (ADC) and phase-lock loops (PLL) and digital components in 2015. Long-term supply of eventual commercial chips should be ensured by using 28nm technology, which is known as a “long lived” node.

“We are excited to work with Infineon as a valuable partner in our R&D program on advanced CMOS-based 77 GHz and 79 GHz radar technology,” stated Wim Van Thillo, program director perceptive systems at imec. “Compared to the mainstream 24 GHz band, the 77 GHz and 79 GHz bands enable a finer range, Doppler and angular resolution. With these advantages, we aim to realize radar prototypes with integrated multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) antennas that not only detect large objects, but also pedestrians and bikers and thus contribute to a safer environment for all.”

Since the aesthetics are always important for buyers, automobile companies have been challenged to integrate all of the desired sensors into vehicles in an invisible manner. “The designers hate what they call the ‘warts’ on car bumpers that are the small holes needed for the ultrasonic sensors currently used,” explained Van Thillo in a press conference during ITF2016.

In an ITF2016 presentation, CEO Reinhard Ploss, discussed how Infineon works with industrial partners to create competitive commercial products. “When we first developed RADAR, there was a collaboration between the Tier-1 car companies and ourselves,” explained Ploss. “The key lies in the algorithms needed to process the data, since the raw data stream is essentially useless. The next generation of differentiation for semiconductors will be how to integrate algorithms. In effect, how do you translate ‘pixels’ into ‘optics’ without an expensive microprocessor?”

Evolution of radar technology over time has reached the miniaturization of 79 GHz using 28nm silicon CMOS technology. Imec is now also working on 140 GHz radar chips. (Source: imec)

—E.K.

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