Rice engineering students design 3D radar system with XeThru UWB radar chip

Engineering students at Rice University showcased their custom-made radar system using 16 XeThru pulse-radar transceiver chips at the Rice University's Annual Engineering Design Showcase last month. Their D.R.A.D.I.S. team was a double winner at the showcase, capturing the $5,000 top prize for Excellence in Engineering as well as a $3,000 Willy Revolution Award for Innovation in Engineering Design.

The winning project was designed as a proof of concept for a next-generation collision-avoidance system for the automotive industry. While existing radar systems in cars sense when objects are near, D.R.A.D.I.S. is able to take that even further and image them. Its 16 pulse-radar antennae feed data to a high-end gaming graphics card that uses more than 2,000 processing cores to complete about a trillion calculations per second.

To build their antenna array, the students purchased 16 off-the-shelf XeThru pulse-radar transceiver X2 chips. These single-chip transceivers enable access to advanced sensor technology in one single IC, and is used for implementing high accuracy and high resolution sensing systems with low power consumption. The system’s "pulse radar" technology uses short bursts of low-power microwaves at a frequency around 10 gigahertz. The power level is about 10 million times less than a cellphone, so the XeThru chips were ideal for this project. In addition to the chips, they used a reprogrammable piece of hardware called a "field programmable gate array" (FPGA) and an ARM processor like the ones used in smartphones. Almost everything else in D.R.A.D.I.S. was custom-built, including the 16 circuit boards for each transceiver and the backplane circuit board.

The team's sponsor, Aydin Babakhani, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice, believes this project will be the world’s first impulse-based, real-time 3-D imaging system. He said D.R.A.D.I.S. is important as a proof of concept because it shows what also might be accomplished using research-grade transceivers that work at more exotic wavelengths, such as the terahertz range. "In terms of potential applications, the real-time image processing that the team has demonstrated could be used for security screening, for the automotive industry and for medical applications," Babakhani said.

While the students are set to graduate next month, D.R.A.D.I.S. will live on in the university lab. The team hopes that the setup can be adapted to work with various other chipsets and future university research projects.

Congratulations team D.R.A.D.I.S.!

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