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Top Advantages and Challenges of Millimeter-Wave Radars in Autonomous Vehicles

July 19, 2017
With self-driving cars receiving much attention, one should be aware of the role that millimeter-wave radar has in terms of enabling autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles: one of today’s most fascinating new technological developments. It’s crazy to think that newer cars are currently becoming “smart” and are helping us humans avoid potentially fatal accidents. What’s even more fascinating is that these smart cars are being developed to completely drive on their own without the help of a driver. Maybe one day in your lifetime, you’ll have your car drive you to work as you get in a few extra (well-deserved) minutes of sleep.

So what’s the main ingredient behind this autonomous vehicle technology? A millimeter-wave radar. It provides a set of eyes for a vehicle, making navigation easier and giving the driver more control. The military was the first to take advantage of this technology, and millimeter-wave radars were used to make the aircraft flight safer in the 1950s and ’60s.

With advancements in technology, new varieties of millimeter-wave radars that are available to everyday consumers are being introduced to the market. One example is a radar device that comes pre-installed in a car or is available as an add-on. And there are many other applications that take advantage of millimeter-wave technology.  

What Other Cool Uses Does This Technology Provide?

The use of millimeter-wave (mmW) radar has been met with acclaim by many industries because of the advantages it offers. Aside from automobiles, the technology can be used in a variety of fields of study. Scientists make use of the mmW radar for:

  • Radio astronomy
  • Studying the upper atmosphere through satellites
  • Studying climate changes
  • Studying rainfall patterns
  • Analyzing the effects of global warming

Using the automotive industry as an example, here are some challenges facing—and advantages to using—this mmW technology.

4 Common Challenges

  1. Vulnerability 

Being vulnerable to certain atmospheric and meteorological phenomena can be an issue for mmW radars. Since the radar needs to be able to bounce off the other vehicles on the road, the presence of pollutants or other atmospheric particles can sometimes get in the way of effective threat identification.  

  1. Over-sensitivity

Over-sensitivity of the technology can be a problem in some instances. There have been cases where the alarm for the program activated even when there was no real threat. Relying too much on a machine to detect threats can lead to harmless mistakes, setting off the alarm.

  1. Limited Range

While the use of the radar will someday lead to the creation of self-driving cars, the technology in its present state is still somewhat limited in terms of accuracy and range.

  1. External Interferences

The presence of electrical towers or electromagnetic hotspots can sometimes cause interference with the machine and, in some cases, cause it to malfunction. More work needs to be done to ensure the radar is protected against electrical interference. Consider learning about how to eliminate phase noise problems in radar systems.

3 Key Advantages

Now that the negative news is out of the way, here’s a look at the top three advantages mmW radars can bring to the table.

  1. Accuracy

New mmW radar devices being manufactured for use in automobiles provide far more accuracy than older models. They can be used to measure the exact distance between your vehicle and the ones that are in close proximity. The program will also keep track of the movement of passersby and constantly monitor the situation to detect possible threats. 

  1. Warning System

The program which controls the radar is also able to send a warning to a passenger when it appears that a collision is imminent, providing plenty of time for a course correction. In the event of a crash occurring, the mmW system can also send message alerts to the authorities and members of the driver’s family.

  1. Compact Design

The older models for the mmW radar made use of giant antennas and numerous other components in order to operate. However, the newer mmW models are able to do the same work with much smaller components, which do not get in the way of the driver or take up too much space. 

Final Thoughts

The adoption of the mmW radar is definitely a benefit for vehicular navigation, but there are certain challenges which must be addressed in order to expand the use of this technology and bring it into the mainstream. CMOS clocks are also frequently used as another key ingredient in autonomous vehicles to regulate timing needs.

Consider checking out the Key Developments in mmW Radio Spectrum Research to learn more interesting details on mmW technology.