A Look into the Future of Automotive Radar

by Gary Dagastine 

If you think there’s been an increase in aggressive and risky driving out on the roads lately, you’re right. Since the pandemic began, traffic infractions like speeding, drunken/impaired driving, distracted driving and others have been on the rise. For example, tickets issued for speeding over 100 mph on California highways are nearly double pre-pandemic levels, while in New York state, record numbers of tickets were issued recently for highway work zone violations. The problem is not confined to the U.S. 

While the ultimate solution to the growing problem of traffic safety rests with drivers, technology has an important role to play, too, and more advanced automotive radar is a key element. 

Automotive radar already enables adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and other advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) functions. But more powerful radar systems that are more tightly integrated with a vehicle’s electronic control systems are foundational to a vehicle’s ability to operate more autonomously. They will bring a much greater capability to anticipate and avoid crashes than is now possible. 

The 22FDX®, RF CMOS and SiGe BiCMOS technology platforms from GlobalFoundries (GF) offer outstanding RF/mmWave performance and digital processing/integration capabilities, ultralow-power operation, and favorable thermal characteristics for automotive radar and other uses. 

That’s why many of the world’s top researchers in high-frequency electronics are using them to create new automotive radar solutions which will appear in vehicles in the next three to five years. This work is supported by GF’s University Partnership Program (UPP), which gives selected research teams at more than 50 leading universities access to GF’s semiconductor technology and related assembly/test services.  

In return, these researchers collaborate with GF’s own R&D team and share research results. This helps support the addition of new features and capabilities to GF’s platforms, opens up application possibilities, and introduces students to these technologies early in their careers. 

Three World-Class Researchers in Automotive Radar 

A previous blog post described how the UPP supports University of Toronto Prof. Sorin Voinigescu in his work to build a 22FDX-based 80/160 GHz dual-polarization transceiver. 

In this post, we’ll learn how three other high-profile researchers are using GF’s technologies to make essential progress in automotive radar: 

Frank Ellinger, Ph.D.
  • Prof. Frank Ellinger, Ph.D., Dr. sc. techn., is Chair of Circuit Design and Network Theory at Technische Universität Dresden, one of Germany’s leading technical universities located in the “Silicon Saxony” microelectronics cluster near GF’s Fab 1. His work focuses on the design and modeling of high-efficiency analog and mixed-signal circuits. He is the coordinator of the German government’s research initiative called “zwanzig20 cluster FAST” (Fast Actuators, Sensors and Transceivers) which has 90 partners, mostly from industry. He also has coordinated several EU-funded research projects; written a book on RF ICs and technologies; published more than 500 scientific papers; and received many awards. His students, too, have received more than 40 scientific awards. 

Prof. Vadim Issakov, Ph.D.
  • Prof. Vadim Issakov, Ph.D. leads the Institute for CMOS Design at the Braunschweig University of Technology (TU Braunschweig), also one of Germany’s leading technical universities. He focuses on analog RF and millimeter-wave (mmWave) circuits for radar and communication applications, as well as circuits for quantum computer and biomedical applications. He holds 11 patents; authored/co-authored more than 120  peer-reviewed articles; won numerous awards (including the IEEE MTT-S Outstanding Young Engineer Award); and written a book on mmWave circuits for radar applications. He previously worked in one of the leading European research institutes, Imec, and in industry at Intel Corporation and Infineon Technologies. At Infineon, he was mmWave Design Lead/Principal Engineer, working on 24 GHz radar technology for lane-change assist, now widely used in ADAS systems, 60 GHz radar for gesture sensing and several additional radar predevelopment topics above 100 GHz. 

Prof. Bogdan Staszewski, Ph.D.
  • Prof. Bogdan Staszewski, Ph.D., is a Full Professor at University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland’s largest and one of its two most prestigious universities, and also Guest Professor at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands. He joined UCD in 2014 to establish a €6.3M center of circuit design for Internet of Things (IoT) applications. His research encompasses nanoscale CMOS architectures and circuits for frequency synthesizers, transmitters and receivers, and quantum computers. For the latter, he and his students have worked to fabricate qubits using quantum well structures in commercial 22FDX process technology and to tightly integrate them on-chip with control electronics. He is co-founder/chief scientific officer of Equal1, a startup aiming to build the world’s first practical single-chip CMOS quantum computer. He has co-authored six books, over 150 journal and 210 conference articles, holds 210 issued U.S. patents, and is an IEEE Fellow. 

Searching for Optimum Solutions 

“An ideal automotive radar does not, and will not, exist because tradeoffs always must be made among many different parameters, such as detection resolution and accuracy, efficiency, power consumption and miniaturization,” said Ellinger at TU Dresden. “However, leading-edge semiconductor technologies such as 22FDX will bring us closer towards optimum solutions. They are also essential to tackling what I call our Century Challenge, where not just the performance of our systems but also their environmental friendliness must be improved, in areas such as energy consumption.”  

Ellinger said that the adaptive body biasing (ABB) feature of 22FDX technology offers great flexibility to adjust transistor operation for higher efficiency, less energy consumption and less signal distortion. GF’s 22FDX platform opens up unique possibilities for studying novel circuit concepts, he said, and his research group currently has three Ph.D. students working on 22FDX-based 77 GHz circuits for automotive radar. 

“Another 22FDX benefit is the high speed of both its n- and p-channel transistors, which enables sufficient signal levels to be realized at 77 GHz frequencies even in CMOS,” Ellinger said. “This is important because CMOS brings advantages that other technologies don’t, such as lower costs and better integration of the high-frequency circuits with low-power digital circuitry in compact systems-on-a-chip.” 

Looking ahead, Ellinger said an interesting research topic is the co-design of high-frequency circuits with packaging to decrease energy losses, a key goal given increasing societal demands for more environmentally friendly technologies. It also reduces thermal effects, leading to improved reliability and greater chip (and therefore automotive) lifetimes. 

Ellinger’s location also benefits GF. “We educate diploma, masters, and Ph.D. students at TU Dresden, who are important as a pool of skilled personnel for GlobalFoundries here, as well as for other companies in Silicon Saxony which are GF customers,” he said. However, motivating young people to study electrical engineering is a key issue in Germany as it is elsewhere in the world. To do this, Ellinger started an award-winning marketing campaign together with two of his Ph.D. students that uses songs, videos and comics to show that electrical engineering is cool and provides attractive job opportunities. 

“Whatever can be done in CMOS, will be done in CMOS” 

Vadim Issakov’s group at the TU Braunschweig is growing fast. “I started in April 2021 and already have several approved projects and 14 research assistants, with another four starting very soon, and an experienced post-doc who’s an expert in mm-wave radar circuit design,” he said. “We do analog/RF/CMOS circuit design, and our work focuses on three main pillars – mm-wave radar, low-power biomedical circuits and cryogenic circuits for quantum technologies.”  

In automotive radar, his group is currently working on a vehicle sensor based on the 22FDX platform, and a 45RFSOI-based 140 GHz phase-modulated continuous-wave (PMCW) radar system on chip (SoC) towards large scalable MIMO array. The same circuits can be used with minor modification also for communication. Therefore, there is also a trend towards radcom chips, chips capable of simultaneously supporting radar and communication functionality. 

Issakov said he thinks SOI technology is the most promising CMOS technology on the market for his radar projects. “Generally, with CMOS FinFETs, you rapidly lose intrinsic gain when you go to smaller nodes, and FMAX [a measure of transistor speed] suffers, but SOI technology has great intrinsic gain and lets you combine mmWave performance with digital logic and low-leakage performance,” he said.  

That potential for integration is important because in coming years, as Issakov puts it, “Whatever can be done in CMOS, will be done in CMOS.” For example, he mentioned the opportunities of combining various modulation techniques. For example, there is a distinction between pulse and continuous wave radar: Pulse radar offers a high resolution at close range, while continuous wave radar detects more distant objects. “One of our goals is to use CMOS design to bring the different types of radar modulations together on one chip. A single chip could then switch back and forth between the modulations depending on the radar scenario,” he said. 

He said the major near-term technical challenges in automotive radar include the needs to achieve higher resolution and faster time-to-imaging; and finding better ways to synchronize the elements which comprise large MIMO arrays to achieve optimum angular resolution. 

Longer-term, more digital capabilities will be required for “smart” automotive radar systems that use neuromorphic computing techniques to detect objects and process data in real-time. “That can only be done in CMOS,” he said. 

Issakov said he is very grateful for the support GF’s UPP provides. “I always get the help and information I need, and fabrication of our circuits on GF’s multi-project wafers (MPWs) is straightforward and enables us to move our work forward effectively,” he said. 

“22FDX is The Natural Choice” 

Professor Bogdan Staszewski’s interest in high-frequency electronics and automotive safety goes back a long way. Early in his career, the University College Dublin professor spent 14 years at Texas Instruments developing digital RF processor technology that has since been widely deployed in many TI products. Then, after joining TU Delft in 2009, he put his Ph.D. students to work on a 60 GHz radar project; a chip for a wireless LAN at 6 GHz; and other projects that pushed the state-of-the-art at the time.  

Along the way he co-founded a company with a Swiss colleague to develop and supply lidar systems to create 3D images of a car’s environment. (Lidar is analogous to radar but uses laser light instead of radio waves.) That experience is one reason he believes the best approach to building better automotive radars is to have a fusion of technologies, including both mmWave radar and lidar. 

“I believe we need to use digital techniques to complement analog, mixed-signal and microwave elements so that you can integrate those analog functions with the digital ones,” he said. “Radars need lot of high-speed data processing to interpret what they see, and too many analog interconnections can kill it.” 

That makes SOI technology attractive for his projects, he said. One example is an all-digital PLL-based transmitter for 150GHz automotive radar, which will be taped-out soon. An earlier project was focused on a 77 GHz automotive radar, but Staszewski’s team felt that the 22FDX platform could enable 150 GHz operation, so the project was expanded. It was conducted successfully in collaboration with a major automotive-industry supplier. 

Staszewski is also exploring the use of FD-SOI technology for quantum computing, which may have future automotive applications. He is using 22FDX technology now, and his company has already made a small cryo-cooler the size of a desktop computer that potentially could be put into cars or trucks to do neural-network calculations “right at the edge.” His team is on their third generation of quantum processors, having made working devices with 10 million gates. 

Staszewski values his relationship with GF: “They have good technology and give us the opportunity to have frequent tapeouts, unlike others we’ve worked with in the past in TU Delft, which was a problem because students need to move their projects forward in order to graduate,” he said. “Also, the information we get from GF’s technical people is very helpful, they explain the ins and outs of the technology so that we can fine-tune the functions we are building; body bias is an example of this.” 

He also speaks highly of 22FDX technology: “I like 22FDX because it combines low-power digital capabilities with the option to greatly integrate RF/mmWave functions. In fact, I consult with a number of companies, and for them, GF is 22FDX,” he said. “It’s the natural choice.”