UWB Tech Takes Automotive and Tracking Applications by Storm
In this article, we round up four recent UWB-related designs making a big impact on automotive child safety, keyless entry, object detection, and more.
While some frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum can be used for data transfer and telecommunications, others can be used in imaging and radar technologies. Ultra-wideband (UWB), formerly known as pulse radio, is a broad range of wireless frequencies with applications in fast and reliable short-range RF communication as well as precision indoor distance and location sensing.
Ultra-wideband (UWB) is a short-range wireless communication protocol.
Recently, prominent chip and electronics manufacturers have come out with new UWB-related designs centered primarily around the automotive industry with passenger detection and safety in mind. This article focuses on four announcements from the past few months and dives deeper into the circuitry behind these ultra-wideband technologies. We'll also discuss how the use of these four products may improve the safety and user experience of the next generation of automobiles.
Samsung Unveils Exynos Connect Platform
Earlier this year, Samsung unveiled Exynos Connect, a new distance-measuring chipset featuring an accuracy of single-digit centimeters and less than five arc degrees. Designed to deliver secure ranging and positioning for indoor environments, the Exynos Connect U100 takes advantage of UWB signals to measure the time of arrival (ToA) and angle of arrival (AoA), providing reliable and real-time movement tracking capabilities.
The Exynos Connect U100 chip. Image used courtesy of Samsung
Within a single package, the U100 chip features RF, baseband, flash memory, power management, and hardware encryption using a scrambled timestamp sequence (STS) function. According to Samsung, this IC is also useful for maximizing battery life in IoT applications thanks to the U100’s power-saving mode.
The Exynos Connect chip has been certified by the FiRa (fine-ranging) Consortium, an organization that deals with the usage, conformity, and interoperability between UWB technologies. It is also compliant with the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) Digital Key Release 3.0 standard, a standard for storing, exchanging, and authenticating vehicle digital keys.
UWB Radar for Child and Pet In-vehicle Safety
Another recent UWB development comes from semiconductor intellectual property company CEVA DSP, which specializes in digital signal processing (hence DSP). Its RivieraWaves radar technology promises to deliver in-cabin motion sensing and detection based on breathing micro-movements.
Block diagram of the CEVA RivieraWaves UWB. Image used courtesy of CEVA DSP
This radar platform was specifically designed for infant and pet monitoring. It also extends battery life through presence detection in consumer electronic devices. Unlike camera-based radar technologies, the RivieraWaves UWB solution supports low-light operation and, more importantly, protects privacy during in-vehicle sensing. Using a coherent demodulation architecture and advanced algorithms, the platform is said to provide reliable distance and angle measurements that can also be used for intruder detection and even gesture recognition.
The company states that its technology lowers the barrier of entry for car manufacturers who are required to increase the safety features of their products—a pressing concern considering the recently-passed Hot Cars Act—allowing them to embed a cost-effective, power-efficient, and anonymous radar into vehicles. CEVA points out that even existing CCC-compliant UWB digital key anchor points can be reused by the RivieraWaves platform.
A New Automotive UWB Localization Module
Back in February, Quectel, a Chinese IoT and automotive solutions company, unveiled an automotive-grade ultra-wideband module based on Qorvo’s DW3300Q IC. Called the AU30Q, this module can be used in both real-time indoor and outdoor motion detection and secure reliable wireless communication. The Qorvo chip itself is an IEEE 802.12.4z-compliant transceiver supporting 6.5-GHz and 8-GHz channels with data transfer speeds of 850 Kbps and 6.8 Mbps, respectively.
In addition to the DW3300Q component, Quectel’s module includes an embedded antenna that can be adapted for use with external CAN or Bluetooth-enabled microcontroller platforms. It achieves this through its two SPI interfaces depending on the required system architecture.
The AU30Q is designed for smart, secure car access. Image (modified) used courtesy of Quectel
For asset detection, this module can be used in both single-sided and double-sided two-way ranging. Furthermore, it can be used to develop real-time localization systems and automated navigation systems in GPS-denied areas (accuracy within 10 cm).
The AU30Q comes in a 12 mm x 25 mm LGA surface mount package. It is CCC conformant and is in alignment with FiRa PHY and MAC specifications. This means that it can be used for standardized vehicle owner localization through a keyfob, smartphone, or smartwatch for keyless entry and trunk access, passenger and intruder detection, and even wireless charging and battery swapping for EVs.
Manufacturing Antennas for UWB Applications
While some companies are developing ultra-wideband chips and modules, passive component manufacturer Abracon has released a range of antennas to meet the industry's need for fast and reliable data transfer. There are three SMD-packaged UWB antenna chips as part of this announcement:
Abracon’s line of UWB antenna components is designed for short-range and high-precision data transfer, especially for low-power consumption applications where maximizing battery life is a high priority in reducing overall operational costs.
With these products in mind, the company aims to expand the capabilities of its RF and antenna portfolio to help manufacturers develop a range of UWB solutions such as IoT, machine-to-machine communication, hands-free payment, secure vehicle access, indoor navigation, and object detection systems.
UWB Systems Might Arrive Sooner Rather Than Later
Although UWB is still a novel technology, it is quickly becoming an effective and affordable solution enabling engineers to develop reliable in-vehicle communication and sensor systems. A key player here is the FiRa Consortium, whose goal is to “transform the way in which people experience connectivity.” This group has expressed its dedication to standardizing an open ultra-wideband ecosystem and fostering collaboration between manufacturers.
While adopting this technology by both chip manufacturers and automotive systems designers might seem easier said than done, its acceptance by large organizations such as Samsung and the CCC may improve the safety and user experience of the next generation of vehicles—precisely through the use of UWB technologies.