Singapore: Researchers from a Singapore university have developed a microchip that allows new radar cameras commonly used in large satellites to be made a hundred times smaller than current ones.
“We have significantly shrunk the conventional radar camera into a system that is extremely compact and affordable, yet provides better accuracy,” said assistant professor Zheng Yuanjin from Nanyang Technological University’s school of electrical and electronic engineering.
“This will enable high-resolution imaging radar technology to be used in objects and applications never before possible, like small drones, driverless cars and small satellite systems,” he added.
Using the new chip, which was recently presented at the “International Solid-State Circuits Conference” (ISSCC) 2016, the palm-sized camera is also 20 times cheaper to produce and consumes at least 75 percent less power.
According to a statement from the university, their production cost can go as low as $10,000 per unit, while power consumption ranges from 1 to 200 watts depending on its application, similar to power-efficient LED TVs or a ceiling fan.
Known as Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), current radar camera systems are usually between half and two metres in length and weigh up to 200 kg.
They cost more than $1 million and can consume over 1,000 watts in electricity per hour, the energy equivalent of a household air-conditioning AC unit running for an hour.
Unlike optical cameras which cannot work well at night due to insufficient light or in cloudy conditions, a radar camera uses microwaves (X-band or Ku-band) for its imaging, so it can operate well in all weather conditions and can even penetrate through foliage.
These detailed images from radar cameras can be used for environmental monitoring of disasters like forest fires, volcano eruptions and earthquakes as well as to monitor cities for traffic congestions and urban density, the authors noted.