NXP’s New Stamp-Sized Radar Sensor for Automobiles

Smarter cars need smaller chips.

NXP Semiconductors N.V. has introduced the world's smallest, single-chip 77GHz radar transceiver. Roughly the size of a postage stamp, the new NXP chip can be “hidden” practically anywhere in the car – a great advantage for vehicle designers as the number of sensors steadily increases in the run-up to fully automated driving. In fact, working prototypes of the new NXP chip are currently being field tested by Google engineers working on their self-driving cars project. In self-driving cars, a “cocoon” created by 10 to 20 tiny radar sensors all around the vehicle provides a high-resolution, 360-degree view of the environment. Earlier this year, NXP revealed it had developed a reference design for 360-degree radar on a 35mm x 35mm printed circuit board (PCB), comprising a radar front end, dual MCUs for signal processing, and supporting components.


Radar is also a core technology in existing Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), which utilizes radar for adaptive cruise control, forward collision warnings, lane change assist/departure warnings, emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and automated parking, which all help to make driving easier and safer. Radar-based ADAS is expected to grow rapidly over the next years; IHS Research estimates that the market will grow to more than 50 million radar sensors in 2021, representing a 23 percent year-on-year increase from this year. Working prototypes of the new chip are currently in the hands of NXP’s automotive Tier One and OEM customers developing ADAS applications.


In comparison to alternate collision-avoidance technologies such as laser-light based systems, 77GHz radar offers superior performance under adverse conditions such as rain, fog and road grime. But unobtrusively placing radar systems on a car has been a significant design challenge because previous solutions made use of bulky radar hardware. The small size--7.5x7.5 mm--of the NXP chip will also be beneficial to automakers looking to replace existing ultrasonic-based park distance control systems with radar sensors, thus eliminating unattractive holes in the bumper. Apart from size advantages, the new chip is a power miser; according to NXP, its power consumption is 40% lower than that of conventional radar ICs.


With the completion of its merger with Freescale Semiconductor in December, NXP has strengthened its position as a provider of ADAS solutions to the automotive market. The combined product offering now includes radar signal processors and MCUs as well as a range of 77 GHz transceivers for long-, mid-, and short-range radar applications, said to be suitable for vehicles ranging from entry level models to premium vehicles.
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