Freescale package could hasten radar for mainstream cars

Image: aetrfreescaleradar.jpg

Freescale’s microcontroller has been tailored for usage with radar sensors, eliminating the need for external components.

As interest in safety grows, radar is expected to expand beyond its current role as a forward-looking sensor on luxury vehicles to a mainstream offering that also scans sides and possibly the rear of the vehicle. Freescale Semiconductor is hoping to cash in on this potential growth market with a specialized chipset that it says will lower pricing, simplify the design cycle, and save as much as 40% in board space.

Freescale’s radar transceiver chipset combines several components and transmitters/receivers into a package specially designed for the high-frequency requirements of 77-GHz radar systems. A microcontroller includes a range of peripherals needed for radar processing. Industry analysts note that the simplified packaging could help move radar from luxury vehicles to mainstream lines.

“No other semiconductors or components are needed to complete the system,” said Ian Riches, Director of Global Automotive Practice at Strategy Analytics. “This will enable consumers to benefit from safer, more advanced, and reliable vehicles beyond the luxury market.”

Pricing and size are key factors that have to date limited radar to high-end vehicles. But markets are expected to rise as more customers are willing to pay for safety. Additionally, regulators in the U.S. and Europe appear ready to require radar on vehicles as part of their efforts to reduce fatal accidents.

Freescale’s radar device combines a number of components with a specialized package. Together, these features could simplify design while reducing the bill of materials.

“The transmitter, receiver, and analog-to-digital converter (ADC) are all in a package designed for high frequency operation, but it still looks like a ball grid array (BGA), so it’s easy to handle,” said Mark Wilson, Product Line Manager for Automotive Radar RF at Freescale Analog and Sensors Group. “At these high frequencies, it’s important to put the transmitters and receivers close to the antenna, which is easier to do with the BGA package.”

Having all the components packaged together also makes it easier to scale systems for different resolution levels. Each receiver in a package can service three channels at once. Up to four can be ganged together for a maximum of four transmit and 12 receiver channels.

“Previously, you needed external ADCs, multiplexers, filters, and other components; many of them are not trivial to select,” Wilson said.

Freescale also unveiled a companion microcontroller designed specifically for radar. The dual-core Qorivva MPC577xK handles functions that now require a microcontroller, field programmable device, and support circuitry. Integration simplifies the design task while also saving board space over discrete components, said Mark O’Donnell, Senior Product Manager at Freescale’s Automotive MCU Group.

“Size benefits depend on the architecture, but on average you’ll probably see 40% savings,” he added. “It’s also easier to write software for a single micro than to write code for an FPGA and a controller.”

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