Fujitsu develops lower-cost millimeter-wave radar for automobiles

The connected car may be getting smarter at a lower cost thanks to R&D coming out of Japan's Fujitsu Laboratories that could help cars better detect objects and people around them.

One of the big motivators for connecting cars is to make them safer for drivers and their passengers, such as by detecting nearby obstacles so that the vehicle can brake or accelerate in response. Technologies used for this type of obstacle detection include millimeter wave radar, LiDAR and stereoscopic cameras.

Fujitsu says it has produced a transceiver chip for millimeter-wave radar in a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) implementation using a process that lowers cost while boosting short-range detection performance of the transceiver.

Compared with LiDAR and stereoscopic cameras, which use the visible wavelengths of light, millimeter wave radar is relatively unaffected by rain, fog and reflections, giving it an important role to play as an onboard sensor, the company says. Lower-cost sensors are more likely to get deployed. 

Using CMOS allows for lower costs and lower power consumption than existing millimeter-wave radar that uses silicon-germanium (SiGe) transceiver chips, but it is more susceptible to noise, particularly in lower frequency ranges.

To fix the noise problem, Fujitsu produced a prototype CMOS transceiver chip that suppresses oscillator noise on the receiver circuit by configuring a frequency-conversion circuit so that it is compatible with the 76-81 GHz band used in automotive millimeter-wave radar. That greatly reduces noise levels found in previously attempted CMOS transceivers, resulting in performance equivalent to or better than current SiGe chips, the company said.

While those efforts continue in Fujitsu's labs--the company anticipates practical applications around the 2018 timeframe--efforts to deploy vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) are under way on various fronts in the United States. In particular, the 5.9 GHz band is being eyed by car manufacturers and others.

In September, members of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Association of Global Automakers met separately with FCC officials to provide an update regarding Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) operations in the 5850-5925 MHz (5.9 GHz) band. They also discussed participation by the IEEE Tiger Team exploring the feasibility of unlicensed use of the band.  

DSRC is a short-to-medium range protocol that permits very low latency data transfers that are critical in communications-based safety applications. The group points out that safety messages sent to warn drivers must be received without delay or interruption as even fractions of a second delay can reduce the effectiveness of the systems.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) initiated a rulemaking process with the FCC in August for regulations to mandate DSRC in new vehicles for crash avoidance. Among  the materials submitted to support its argument were the results of a study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), which has been testing connected vehicles as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Safety Pilot Model Development in Ann Arbor, Mich. 

With the help of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), the university's Mobility Transportation Center (MTC) is pursuing a two-year deployment of approximately 3,000 vehicles to create a V2V deployment of 9,000 vehicles in Ann Arbor. The center is also working with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and industrial partners to provide sufficient V2I in southeast Michigan to support the deployment of some 20,000 connected vehicles.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) also has been tapped to design the delivery integration framework that will allow vehicles to "talk" with drivers and  other automobiles on the roadway. Researchers at the institute recently kicked off a study on how to move stop and yield signs, among other posted traffic, from the side of the road into the car itself, where a dashboard screen will automatically alert the driver of what actions to take, if any. The idea is that if no other car is present at an intersection, for example, the driver would be allowed to pass through and go on.

The institute says the project ties directly into its endeavor into connected-vehicle technology, a futuristic intranet-like grid system where smart cars and other vehicles will be able to communicate not only with each other but surrounding infrastructure to help prevent auto crashes and ease congestion. VTTI has a "Virginia smart road" staging area where researchers can test out their ideas.

For more:
- see the Fujitsu press release

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