In this News Brief, we'll look at a new series of millimeter wave sensors for automotive and industrial applications.

Millimeter Wave Technology 101

In the simplest terms, millimeter wave sensors are so-named because the radio waves they employ have are extremely high-frequency with wavelengths between one and ten millimeters. As defined by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), millimeter waves occur between 30GHz and 300GHz in the electromagnetic spectrum, a range often referred to as the "millimeter wave band". 

Millimeter waves are limited from a certain perspective because they can only reliably propagate over about a kilometer and, even within a kilometer, cannot penetrate solid objects well. They can't travel through walls but can penetrate objects like clothing, plastic, and glass. However, they are excellent for situations where high accuracy is needed.

Millimeter wave technology is hardly new. (In fact, it was first experimented with in the 1890s by Acharya Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose.) It became familiar to the public in 2007 when the US TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) began utilizing millimeter wave scanners as part of air security measures, scanning passengers for prohibited items.

Millimeter wave sensors, however, find uses in many other places than airports. For example, millimeter (and submillimeter) wavelengths are used in telescopes for observing deep space. The Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) is a multi-national antenna array in Chile that collectively behaves as a single telescope and uses millimeter waves to survey the stars.

 

Some of the ALMA antennas positioned 5,000 meters above sea level. Image courtesy of ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO) and W. Garnier.

 

Millimeter wave technology is also a contender in the ongoing battle to decide what sensors are best used in autonomous cars. It’s also found in applications like medical equipment and automation.

You can read more about using millimeter waves across various fields in our article on millimeter wave tech in wireless applications.

 

Texas Instruments mmWave Sensor Portfolio

TI’s new portfolio actually includes five chips from two separate families: the AWR1x and the IWR1x. Each of the 76-81GHz sensors offers analog design in a tiny package, each measuring 10.4 mm x 10.4 mm. Each also allows for sensing within 300 meters with 4-centimeter range resolution and range accuracy down to 50 micrometers.

The AWR1x family of sensors is being marketed with a focus on automotive applications, particularly radar sensors. TI makes a distinction between the three types of radar sensing at the AWR1x family is capable of: front long range (dynamic object detection up to 300km/hour), multi-mode (surroundings detection), and short range (dynamic object detection up to 80m). 

By contrast, the IWR1x family is being presented as a solution for industrial applications. These sensors are capable of detecting velocity, range, and the angle of objects. This makes them suitable for a wide number of applications such as object detection for drones, robotics, and vehicles like forklifts. They're also useful for stationary monitoring, such streetlight activation, security applications, and traffic tracking.

TI claims that these are the most accurate millimeter wave sensors available.

 

The AWR1x and IWR1x families. Images from Texas Instruments.

 

Technical Specs:

  • AWR1x
    • AWR1243
      • Max sampling rate: 37.5 Msps
      • IF bandwidth: 15 MHz
      • Number of receivers: 4
      • Number of transmitters: 3
      • Interfaces: MIPI CSI2, SPI, UART
    • AWR1443
      • Max sampling rate: 12.5 Msps
      • IF bandwidth: 5 MHz
      • Memory: 576KB
      • Number of receivers: 4
      • Number of transmitters: 3
      • ARM CPU: ARM Cortex-R4F 200MHz
      • Radar hardware accelerator - FFT
      • Interfaces: CAN, SPI, QSPI, I2C, UART
    • AWR1642
      • Max sampling rate: 12.5 Msps
      • IF bandwidth: 5 MHz
      • Memory: 1.5MB
      • Number of receivers: 4
      • Number of transmitters: 2
      • ARM CPU: ARM Cortex R4F 200MHz
      • DSP: C674x 600MHz
      • Interfaces: CAN-FD, CAN, SPI, QSPI, I2C, UART
  • IWR1x
    • IWR1443
      • Memory: 576KB
      • Number of receivers: 4
      • Number of transmitters: 3
      • ARM CPU: ARM Cortex-R4F 200MHz
      • Co-processor: Radar hardware accelerator - FFT
      • Interfaces: CAN, LVDS, I2C, MIPI CSI2, SPI, QSPI, UART
    • IWR1642
      • Memory: 1.5MB
      • Number of receivers: 4
      • Number of transmitters: 2
      • ARM CPU: ARM Cortex R4F 200MHz
      • DSP: C674x 600MHz
      • Interfaces: CAN, LVDS, I2C, SPI, QSPI, UART

 

Featured image used courtesy of Texas Instruments.

 

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