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A UK consortium is attempting to integrate radar, microwave and broadband communications systems on to a single device, to reduce the cost and complexity of installing the technology in new cars.

Sensors are increasingly used in top-of-the-range cars to improve safety, including radar-based adaptive cruise control systems designed to ensure the vehicles maintain a safe distance from those in front.

As the technology develops the use of such sensors will increase, creating a headache for car makers in integrating all the different systems into their vehicles, said Nigel Priestley, chief engineer at e2V Technologies, the UK sensor company leading the consortium. The team, which began work last week, also includes Jaguar Cars, BAE Systems, microwave specialist LEW Techniques and the University of Birmingham.

‘Cars are festooned with bits of equipment, making life difficult for automotive manufacturers, as they have to integrate them all into the vehicle,’ said Priestley.

Short and Long Range Integrated Multi-Function Radar and Communications Sensors (SLIMSENS) will be integrated with long-range adaptive cruise control (ACC), short-range radar (SRR) and a broadband communications unit into a single module.

‘Some commentators are now saying that to get sensing all the way around the vehicle it would take around 14 separate sensors. That is obviously far too many, so our idea is to bring that down to about five.

‘Even if these multi-function sensors are more expensive, the fact that you have gone from 14 to five will mean a reduction in cost,’ said Priestley.

The system will use a 77GHz long-range ACC system, with a narrow beam designed to pick up information from the three motorway lanes ahead. The 77GHz short-range radar will have a much wider viewing angle of up to 180 degrees, but will operate over a much shorter distance – up to 25m. This will be used to detect hazards drivers often find difficult to spot, such as children jumping out from the side of the road.

The broadband unit, working in conjunction with antennas attached to road signs, will not only allow vehicle occupants to receive traffic information but also services such as high-speed internet access, and could also allow vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Ultimately, the technology could be used within intelligent highways, in which the combined broadband and radar system would take control of the vehicle on joining motorways.

A significant portion of the three-year project, which is part of the government-funded Foresight Vehicle programme, will be spent developing new antenna technologies to allow the device to combine a narrow beam for long-distance sensing and the wide beam needed for short-range radar and communications.

The team plans to build a demonstrator system by the end of the project, which will be tested at BAE System’s Advanced Technology Centre at Great Baddow in Essex.

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