Radar has long been a healthy application area for the RF/microwave industry, but it has also long been synonymous with military customers and subcontractors. For military radar use, requirements for devices, components, and systems were well established by the environmental and performance needs of those military radar systems. In recent years, however, radar is no longer just military—it is as likely to be found in a consumer application like an automobile as in a military vehicle. Future growth opportunities for electronic devices, components, and systems in radar applications will most definitely be in commercial and consumer areas.

While military uses for radar technology continue to be widespread, the commercial world is quickly adopting radar technology for collision avoidance systems, albeit at somewhat higher frequencies than in military applications: 77 GHz. The military has traditionally enjoyed a host of applications in frequency bands through 18 GHz, leaving higher-frequency bands open for commercial applications, such as automotive collision-avoidance systems. Of course, without the support of military contracts, these higher-frequency radar systems must be designed economically and competitively.

One of the frequency bands that has caught a great deal of attention for commercial/consumer automotive radar systems is at 77 GHz, within a band that is not occupied by other applications and can effectively support collision-avoidance radar systems in commercial automobiles. The secrets are to fabricate electronic systems that can reliably and repeatably provide the performance needed for these systems, and to do so at a cost that can be competitively applied across a wide range of automobiles.

Because of the potential size of this market—with each automobile employing multiple antennas and 77-GHz radar receivers and transmitters to handle collision-avoidance protection for the front, rear, and sides of a vehicle—many major device, component, and subsystem manufacturers are exploring cost-effective solutions for 77-GHz automotive collision-avoidance radar systems. Even suppliers of printed-circuit boards (PCBs) are testing different high-frequency materials for low dissipation at frequencies to 77 GHz and beyond. Interestingly, these frequencies that were once considered “exotic” because they were much higher than the traditional RF/microwave frequency range of DC to 18 GHz, are now drawing a growing number of device, circuit, system, and even PCB developers offering products capable of cost-effective performance at frequencies to 77 GHz and beyond.

The automotive radar market represents a healthy market for any number of millimeter-wave component suppliers, but it is only just a start for what might be possible at these higher frequencies. With the increasing needs to move large amounts of data across relatively short distances in both commercial and military applications, line-of-sight communications links at 60 and 94 GHz are also growing in popularity, with link designers seeking affordable components and even PCB materials for these systems. Not many years ago, electronic products at millimeter-wave frequencies were considered somewhat exotic. But driven by automotive applications, the use of 77 GHz and other millimeter-wave frequency bands may be as commonplace as getting in the car.

Editor’s Note: My best wishes to all attending the IEEE International Microwave Symposium, and my apologies for not being able to join everyone in the beautiful city of Tampa, Fla. I know this magazine is well represented, and we will continue to cover this industry’s largest and most significant technical event with post-show coverage in the July issue of Microwaves & RF.

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