RadarConf 2023 Panel—Innovating Radar in the Face of Physical Limits
In the face of fundamental limits, radar industry leaders are poised to tackle the coming challenges in radar in their own unique ways.
The recent 2023 IEEE Radar Conference (RadarConf 2023) featured a bevy of speakers from industry and academia sharing their research and offering their opinions on the impending challenges that the radar community will face.
On day 1, a group of industry experts formed a panel to address some of the latest trends and challenges in radar, and how their respective organizations are poised to solve them.
A panel of 6 industry experts discussed the latest trends and challenges for radar, and what designers need to do to address the coming issues. Image from All About Circuits’ attendance of RadarConf 2023
The panel, made up of six members from various fields of radar and microwave engineering, shared not only their thoughts on the latest technology and obstacles but also how colleagues from industry and academia should expect the field to evolve in the coming years.
In this article, we’ll summarize the highlights of the panel to give readers a sense of the critical tasks ahead for radar engineering, and how fundamental limits may ultimately change the way that sensor and communication systems are developed.
Sensors Must Do More Than Sense
One of the key points made at the panel is that radar technology cannot afford to slow or become stagnant at this point in its development. With continued integration in automotive or aircraft systems, there are new points of failure that can be tricked or manipulated by bad actors.
Fotis Koubiadis, a Lockheed Martin Fellow said, “The threats in the environment are changing more rapidly and quickly and advancing quicker than the technologies themselves. So innovation has to happen, not at the component level of the technology, we find ourselves having to innovate at the architecture level.”
In the context of automotive radar, threats such as spoofing, interference, or jamming pose challenges that require innovations at the architecture to address. Image used courtesy of Sensors
These innovations can take several forms, such as joint sensing and communication or multi-static sensing systems, but as radar has been a patented technology for over a century, some creative thinking is required in order to provide the performance increases demanded by next-generation applications.
Photonics is one option, offering increased bandwidth and higher frequency circuitry enabled by advances in photonic integrated circuit technology. When asked about the integration of RF and photonics as a means of innovation, Dr. Jeffrey Herd from the MIT Lincoln Laboratory said, “I think photonics can earn itself a place at the table for [bandwidth-heavy] situations.”
“In photonics, it’s difficult to go down to a narrow passband, below 100 or 200 MHz is going to be a challenge. So, it’s not going to be a solution for all the things that we want to do, it’s not going to replace everything, but I think it’s going to open up new opportunities.”
Test is Half the Battle
Going hand-in-hand with design, the test and measurement field is also facing difficult challenges as radar systems become more complex and more distributed. When discussing disruptive technology in test-and-measurement, National Instruments Business Development Manager Haydn Nelson says having a strategy is important.
“There’s this move to distributed sensors and having this ability to spread out that capability across multiple receivers and transmitters, and how do you test that? You almost need to have, oftentimes, a full custom test strategy.”
Especially considering that most test equipment cannot be hyper-specialized, designers may now have to place even more weight on their test plan when designing complex systems.
When testing complex or multistatic (pictured) systems, more emphasis must be placed on the testing plan to ensure the device may be accurately tested and qualified in a lab setting before testing in a realistic environment. Image used courtesy of IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems
While technology such as photonics integration or architecture innovations may improve raw radar performance, measurement equipment must be able to keep up for the technology to be feasible.
In response to testing photonics and how test-and-measurement plans to adapt, Bill Kardine, Business Development Manager at Rohde & Schwarz said, “We’re always pushing the limits of what is possible in certain form factors.”
“From our standpoint, trying to solve all these problems in one architecture is really challenging.”
Although we can expect continued developments in test equipment, designers themselves will ultimately take on some responsibility of adopting a test strategy that accurately characterizes their system and ensuring that the transition from the laboratory to the real world is as smooth as possible.
Breaking Past Physical Limits
It’s certainly no surprise that purely analog radar sensors are approaching fundamental limits, but as developments in adjacent fields enable more complex sensors, continued innovation is necessary in order to support next-generation applications. This innovation is not expected to come from any specific field, but rather as a result of enhanced interaction between industry and academic researchers.
In response to a question asking what industry needs from academia, Fotis Koubiadis says it's a two-way effort between academia and industry.
“I think [industry] involvement will help in terms of going back and forth. I think we have to be active from our end to be able to look at what [academia] is doing, where we can exploit it, what we can do, especially in the development cycle a lot on the early technology readiness levels in terms of research.”
At the end of the day, radar may now be considered an old dog. But, if the innovative momentum seen at RadarConf 2023 is continued, it may be able to learn new tricks that enable new and advanced sensing applications in any environment.