Millimeter wave radars have been saddled with an unfairly negative public perception ever since the TSA's bumbling body scanner program began. But, the technology itself is immensely useful for more than peeping under clothes and this miniaturized prototype from the Fraunhofer Institute aims to prove it.
The millimeter wave sensor solves a problem that's plagued humanity for millennia: our inability to see through solid objects. However by leveraging the penetrating powers of radio's highest frequency band, known as W-Band, the Fraunhofer radar can see through non-transparent, dielectrical, and non-metallic materials. W-band is an extremely high frequency form of electromagnetic radiation that spans the 3 - 300 GHz range, beyond infrared, with a weavelength between one and ten millimeters. The Fraunhofer radar operates within the more limited 75 to 110 GHz range but can still see through solids like wood, fiber, and plastic as well as atmospheric obstructions like snow or fog.
What's more, the Fraunhofer radar is downright microscopic compared to existing millimeter wave radar systems. Conventional radar rely on bulky and expensive ceramic substrates, weighing about 11 pounds on average. The Fraunhofer is instead based on gallium arsenide semiconductor technology that shrinks the sensor's form factor to the size of a cigarette box—including the emitter, signal processer, and antennae. And despite its size, it still offers better image resolution than traditional scanners. It is also emits just 10 milliwatts of power when transmitting, compared to the average cell phone that emits 1000mW and TSA scanners that use upwards of 100 mW, making the new sensor less of a health risk.
"The W-band radar can be used in any situation where other sensor technologies in manufacturing processes have failed because of high temperatures or limited visibility. Just to name one example, it can be used as a filling level sensor in flour silos: a great deal of dust forms when they are being filled," Dr. Axel Hülsmann, an engineer at IAF, said in a press release. Even in poor visibility, the radar can spot items at a range of nearly two miles. This will have huge implications in a wide array of industries, from industrial maunfacturing and agriculture to land management, traffic control, and even Search and Rescue operations.
Fraunhofer has announced that it will debut a prototype of the new system at Hannover Messe, during the second week of April.
[Fraunhofer - Wikipedia 1, 2 - International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection - Image: Fraunhofer IAF]