Radar sensing, serving more use cases than you think

An article written by Cédric Malaquin, Technology & Market Analyst, RF Devices & Technology from Yole Développement (Yole) in collaboration with Stéphane Elisabeth, Technology & Cost Analyst from System Plus Consulting for Elektronik Industrie.

As a longstanding sensing technology, radar has been developed over the decades across multiple markets for a wide variety of applications. Two of these markets are industrial and automotive, each having its own dynamics as mentionned in the recent report Status of the Radar industry: Players, Application and Technology Trends 2020, from Yole.

The industrial market initially requested a very specific different radar sensor for each application. Level probing of liquids and solids for multiple market verticals, as shown on Figure 1, presence or motion detection for building automation, ground probing supporting the building industry, navigation, and industrial automation with collaborative robots and drones were the main use cases. Indeed, radar operates in a different environment from one application to another. It can be mounted on top of a building’s door, on a ship mast, in a factory line or on the top of a tank. Therefore, radar had to comply with different regulations, if any existed, and had to span across a wide operational range of frequency bands. The volumes of sensor produced for each application is relatively low, but the specificity is such that the selling price is generally high. On the ecosystem side, companies have specialized in one or two particular use cases, for instance Siemens, ABB and Krohne are selling radar sensors for level probing applications, while Furuno and Lowrance are active in maritime navigation, Leica geosystems and IDS geo system (now part of Hexagon) offer ground probing radar.

The automotive market, on the other hand, needs a standardized radar sensing approach with the longest possible range, the widest field of view, the best achievable resolution, and the lowest possible price. The most common mounting in automotive is behind a bumper, a brand logo or in front of a cooling grill, though sometimes behind a windshield for radar/camera combo sensors. Other mounting approaches are also being investigated such as in headlamps. The mounting location is carefully selected after considering the required detection performance, the heat dissipation capability – which is related to the performance – and the mounting space. Over the past decade, there has been a strong push from the automotive industry to standardize the operational frequency worldwide and to widen the allowed bandwidth to maximize the radar’s range resolution. Now the industry is coordinating to solve the up-coming interference issue through the German government funded project, IMIKO. Indeed, strong safety incentives from Euro NCAP (Figure 2) and others are driving the automotive radar market, which is growing very quickly in numbers.

The stakes are such that many new entrants are positioning to take market from the major players. As a result, there is a strong pressure on innovation for differentiation on either performance or cost.

According to Yole’s latest market and technology report, the radar market in 2019 was worth US$3.9 billion for industrial and US$5.5 billion for automotive. As per their different market dynamics, industrial and automotive radar will have a different growth rates, as depicted in figure 3.

The current COVID-19 pandemic will obviously affect the market in 2020, but in different ways for the industrial and automotive market segments. On one hand the automotive market will suffer from a lack of sales due to a demand shock at consumer level. We expect a 30% impact on the automotive market with a progressive recovery in 2021 and 2022 as shown on Figure 4. Thus, the investment priority at OEM level could be given to vehicle electrification (or alternative technology) more than on vehicle automation because carbon penalties have a direct financial impact on them. In addition, governments are likely to inject subsidies to boost the economy while asking for faster automotive decarbonization, as is the case in Europe. This notwithstanding, safety requirements will not be relaxed, and we expect level 1-2 and level2+/2++ to keep growing, thus offering a great opportunity for the automotive radar industry.

On the other hand, the industrial market is less sensitive to consumer demand and more stable due to long term investment plans. Overall, we expect it to be less affected by the COVID-19 crisis. In some market verticals, such as the Oil & Gas industry, there will be an indirect impact on companies that will invest less for sensors, whereas in other verticals, such as Food and Beverage, it will be the opposite. The pandemic has even reinforced certain market trends, such as the so-called last mile delivery leveraging drones and robots, offering a significant opportunity for radar sensors. Building automation could also be positively impacted as social distancing has now become the rule. Radar sensing not only enables automated door opening, but also automated lighting and HVAC, and people detection and counting. Overall, we expect a dramatic increase in volume of radar sensors for industrial use cases, such as the ones described. Indeed, companies such as Infineon and Texas Instrument have already positioned themselves in the industrial market segment hoping to leverage their technology development made in the automotive market, thus improving their return on investment. Infineon has even taken an extra step by investing in the consumer market with a radar-based sensor in the Google Pixel 4. We believe this latest case is a valuable one as it solves the privacy issue of current Human Machine Interface systems based on voice or imaging.

From a technological standpoint, radar sensors have significantly evolved over the last decades. For the automotive market, they now come in small form factors leveraging the progress made by the semiconductor industry. The industry has moved on from Gunn diodes to GaAs discretes and MMIC, and are nowadays almost 100% based on the silicon MMICs offered by the market leaders, Infineon and NXP, as well as by all the other players including new entrants. Specific packaging technologies also have been developed to optimize radar RF performance. In Fan-Out Technologies, such as Redistributed Chip Package (RCP) from Nepes or embedded Wafer Level Ball grid array (eWLB) from Infineon, the ball array is spread all around the die, leaving an air gap below the die, thus reducing the parasitic effect of the PCB substrate. This work has been done in parallel to radar antenna development which is another important piece of the sensor. The next big thing in automotive radar will be the so-called 4D imaging radar that we expect to be introduced into the market at commercial level from 2021. The basic idea is to collect more data points and do more with it rather than filtering it. 4D imaging radar will generate a true point cloud that will be monitored point by point, cluster by cluster, frame by frame, to help in classifying objects in addition to getting their relative position, distance, and velocity. Thus, it is now on the computing side that Tier 1s, semiconductor companies and start-ups are focusing. It is also the angle from which mobile handset companies, such as Qualcomm and Huawei, are intending to enter the market. Indeed, the weak point of automotive radar sensors is their computing capability and the associated available memory. The question arises as to where to put the signal processing, and then the computing, as illustrated in Figure 5.

Currently, the signal processing and decision making is taking place in the radar MCU customized for these tasks. In the future, the signal processing might move to the RF MMIC, similar to what Texas Instrument developed for its short-range radar sensor (Figure 6), while the computing might be embedded in a domain controller with a chip dedicated to radar computing.

Integrating RF and signal processing also makes sense for the industrial applications discussed above, as it would improve cost and size of the sensor in a market in which competing technologies (ultrasonic, passive infrared) also are positioned.

Radar is entering the commercial era and will switch from a low volume custom device to a standardized high-volume sensor.

About the authors

Cedric Malaquin - Yole Développement

As a Technology & Market Analyst, specialized in RF devices & technologies within the Power & Wireless division at Yole Développement (Yole), Cédric Malaquin is involved in the development of technology & market reports as well as the production of custom consulting projects.
Prior to his mission at Yole, Cédric first served Soitec as a process integration engineer for 9 years, then as an electrical characterization engineer for 6 years. He contributed in-depth to FDSOI and RFSOI product characterization. He has also authored or co-authored three patents and five international publications in the semiconductor field.
Cédric graduated from Polytech Lille in France with an engineering degree in microelectronics and material sciences.

Stéphane Elisabeth, PhD., joined System Plus Consulting’s team in 2016. Stéphane is an Expert Cost Analyst in RF, Sensors and Advanced Packaging. He has a deep knowledge of materials characterizations and electronics systems. He holds an Engineering Degree in Electronics and Numerical Technology, and a PhD in Materials for Microelectronics.

Related event

The Radar Industry is Entering its Commercial Era – Webcast
For many years, the radar market was limited to small-volume production for defense and high-end industrial applications, each with its own dedicated ecosystem.

Related reports

Status of the Radar industry: Players, Application and Technology Trends 2020
Worth more than $20B in 2019, the radar industry is experiencing a major transformation prior to entering the commercial era.

Bottom Package Texas Instruments AWR1843AoP 77/79 GHz Radar Chipset Routing - System Plus Consulting

Texas Instruments AWR1843AoP 77/79 GHz Radar Chipset
World’s first 76-81 GHz automotive single-chip radar in a System-on-Chip device with integrated Antenna-on-Package.