Radar technology is in the midst of a renaissance-like revival, which started on the count of the rising demand of compact technology for military and commercial applications that’s high-powered and cost-effective. Innovative technologies like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), autonomous cars, and the variety of existing commercial applications count on solid-state radar, in which programming and fabrication have been re-engineered to suit the market’s needs.
Consequently, some of these aforementioned technologies (namely used for stealth and signal jamming) have mitigated the value and demand of traditional radar. In addition, new sophisticated antenna techniques, digital processing, and radio frequency transceivers have also become contributing factors in the resurrection of technological radar innovation.
Enabled by software-defined radio (SDR) systems, one of the outcomes we’re seeing from these smarter radar waveforms and systems is communicative technology possessing more algorithmic qualities. This has largely been enabled by software, as evidenced by the physical layer functions we now see in SDR systems.
SDR systems are defined as a form of radio technology where some (or all) of the technology’s physical layer functions are defined by software. The specification, performance, and function are solely achieved through utilizing software without bestowing any changes on the physical hardware. As a result, the technology is extremely adaptable and flexible. SDR systems place some (or all) complex signal handling that pertains to communication transmitters and receivers in a digital space.
SDR systems, in their most basic form, could simply consist of an analog-to-digital converter chip that connects to an antenna. Although the software exclusively handled filtering and signal detection, SDR has evolved to the point where it can be used to build smart cognitive radios (CR) and enhance radar technology.
CR is best described as intelligent adaptive radio and network technology that automatically detects available channels and changed transmission parameters in a wireless spectrum. This function creates conditions for a better quality of communication that enhances radio operating behavior and spectrum utilization.
Multiple inputs/multiple outputs (MIMO) use antennas at the transmitter and receiver. Any data attained by antennas on either end of the communication circuit become fused to minimize errors, while optimizing data speed. This enables size and weight to be reduced, creating the ultimate form of powerful compact radar. MIMO also reduces power consumption and overall costs, in addition to improving the ability to scale. The user can balance spatial diversity using multiple receive and transmit antennas that operate on multiple frequencies without interference, along with utilizing algorithms to achieve compound resolutions through calculating radar reflections.
Another developmental boost that’s gotten the radar industry this far derives from new semiconductors and fabrication techniques that are under continuous development, with factors like performance, flexibility, and scalability being critical in these platforms’ design stage. SDR technology can be customized to count on quick and easy development of lightweight high-performing radars, while SDR-based radar solutions can be adapted to fit anything standard (from vehicles to counter-UAV systems).
Some of these solutions include smaller adaptable field programmable gate arrays, along with processor technologies to develop modular platforms. As we see regular everyday devices become “smarter,” the integration of SDR and radar technology can provide low-cost alternative options. We’re just witnessing the beginning of this broad technological expansion in radar and SDR technology, which hasn’t come close to reaching the limit of its true potential.