TI radar sensor IC targets autonomous cars, robotics

May 19, 2017 //By Graham Prophet
Texas Instruments (Dallas, TX) has introduced a series of single-chip millimetre-wave (80 GHz) sensor products, built in standard CMOS, that it is offering to fulfill a range of distance-measurement-based sensing functions in automotive radar, industrial and infrastructure applications.

TI has been able to have its standard (logic) CMOS process perform at the frequencies (76 to 81 GHz) needed for the transmit and receive aspects of a radar sensor – at low power levels. As the process is CMOS, it has also been able to integrate the complete analog front end, signal processing, and – optionally – a microcontroller core and a DSP core. These are an ARM Cortex-R4 (real-time-optimized) core and a TI C674 DSP.

This yields a range of solutions, In one sense the most complex chips may meet the simplest needs. When a measurement function is a standalone device – a distance measurement in say, a production process, or a level detection, the chip with on-board processing will yield a final measured value. Conversely, in the automotive radar space, or other environment where there is extensive sensor fusion and interpretation of data, the “bare” radar function can send “raw” data onwards to a host processor.

The emerging connected world, TI comments, needs sensing technology that can perform in a wide range of environmental conditions, through barriers, and provide accurate detection over a spread of distances, “mmWave is the only sensing technology able to meet all these challenges”. Among other assertions, TI says that this “immediately obsoletes” ultrasonics (in parking sensors, for example).

TI emphasizes that being able to make the chip in CMOS (prior devices have used silicon-germanium technology) opens a new era for radar-type measurements. The company believes, according to a spokesman, that it has a lead of at least months, and possibly years, over other suppliers working in the same area.

The product range includes five configurations across two families of sensors with a complete end-to-end development platform. The two families are designated AWR1x and IWR1x, to indicate optimization for automotive or industrial applications, respectively.

According to the company, the products are capable of up to three times more accurate sensing than current mmWave