Single-chip digital imaging radar heads for 2022 production

Magna’s ADAS package uses Uhnder’s patented radar chip.

February 2022, metro-Detroit radar demo-drive day in an outfitted Jeep. We didn’t even clear off the front sensor array. (Uhnder)

The Jeep Grand Cherokee fitted with new single-chip digital imaging radar technology is cruising a residential street in metro Detroit in February. Recent heavy snowfall has wiped out visibility from the demonstration vehicle’s onboard camera, but the radar isn’t compromised. There’s a bicyclist pedaling through the thick, slushy snow. Moments later, a person walking a dog appears. Both are detected by the Jeep’s retrofitted sensors and displayed as moving objects on its screen.

Uhnder engineer Jonathan Preussner drives the demo vehicle equipped with digital radar. Raw data is seen on the screen as yellow and red bars to indicate detection of static objects. Blue and purple bars indicate detection of dynamic/moving objects with the depicted color determined by the object’s direction and velocity. (Uhnder)

“Traditional analog radar on today’s passenger vehicles would not see that bicyclist, but our digital radar is detecting a bicyclist riding on a sidewalk 100 m/328 ft away,” observed Max Liberman, VP of Chips for Uhnder, Inc. The radar information is depicted as raw data atop the screen’s backdrop of grid blocks, each representing 25 m/82 ft. Camera images are shown in the screen’s upper right corner. “Digital radar data indicates the dog walker is 150 m/492 ft away, yet you can barely see this individual with your eyes,” Liberman observed to his SAE Media co-passenger. “And you definitely can’t see the person in the camera image because the lens is snow-covered.”

Behind the wheel is Uhnder’s lead radar applications engineer, Jonathan Preussner. The technology demonstrator is equipped with five digital radar chip units, each containing an antenna, memory, power management, and automotive ethernet for connection. Our impressive 60-minute drive during an afternoon snowstorm included highway speeds on an eight-lane expressway as well as slow-speed trekking on suburban streets.

Delivering a 4D environment

Uhnder’s Max Liberman claims that his young company has more radar IP than any other semi-conductor company. (Uhnder)

Austin, Texas-based Uhnder is supplying its patented radar chip to tier-one Magna as part of an ADAS package slated to enter production in November 2022 on the Fisker Ocean EV, built at Magna’s Graz, Austria, complex. The companies claim the system, encompassing the digital imaging single-chip radar, cameras, and ultrasonic sensors, to be an industry-first application for the digital-imaging technology.

Uhnder’s digital radar chips initially debuted in autonomous mobility applications, including a program that began in 2021 with system integrator Yunshan Technologies Ltd. In this application, the digital radar technology enables autonomous container transportation at a shipping port in Shenzhen, China. According to Liberman, numerous autonomous ground vehicles, each with 12 digital radar chips, were operating at the port in early 2022.

As ADAS vehicle applications proliferate and eventually progress to SAE Level 3 and higher driving automation, increasingly capable radars and cameras are considered must-haves. In that context, digital radar provides a unique assist to object detection, the Uhnder engineers said. Although traditional analog radar and digital imaging radar perform detection tasks via transmitters and receivers, a leading analog radar solution currently in use has three transmitters and four receivers to provide 12 channels. In contrast, Uhnder’s digital radar has 12 transmitters and 16 receivers for 192 virtual channels. The chips are currently manufactured by TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company).

The Uhnder radar chip (shown) is the first digital imaging single-chip radar for the automotive market. (Uhnder)

“You need a lot of data to write the algorithms for SAE Level 3-5 autonomy, and our digital radar solution provides that needed data,” said Liberman. He noted that our demo Jeep is fitted with a gigabit ethernet 3.2-megapixel color camera. At the vehicle’s corners are mid-range radars that see 80 m/262 ft at the x-axis and z-axis. A front-facing long-range radar offers range beyond 300 m/984 ft.

“This is all digital radar, so instead of having FMCW [frequency-modulated continuous wave] lidar, we put a digital signal on top of the 77 gigahertz [radar],” Liberman explained. Uhnder’s digital radar delivers a 4D environment that calculates the relative speed, range, x-axis and elevation of detected objects.

Digital radar has “16 times better resolution and 30 times better contrast than traditional analog radar, giving vehicles the power to sense vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and objects in all-weather and all-times of day,” Manju Hegde, Uhnder’s CEO and co-founder told SAE Media. The company has 38 issued patents and numerous pending patents to address various aspects, including digital processing, high contrast resolution, angle resolution and Doppler accuracy.

Encoded transmitter

The big enabler with digital radar is that every transmitter can be encoded. “So, when we send a signal, we know exactly what we’re sending and from which transmitter,” Liberman explained. “We also know what receiver receives it. Using that information, we can figure out precisely where the object is located.” And because there is more power on target due to the 12 transmitters, a pedestrian can be seen further away in comparison to a three-transmitter system, he added.

The digital radar capabilities of the Fisker production application will differ slightly from those of the demo vehicle. The Ocean will share the demo’s mid-range view capability, but its front facing radar “will not have 300 m/984 ft detection on a pedestrian,” Liberman noted.