Roadshow

New car radar from the military

Magna's new iCON radar tech for cars is one of a new breed that takes a page from military radar.

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The modern car bristles with sensors, and radar is usually one of them. But compared to LIDAR and cameras, auto engineers tell me radar is sort of low-res, not too far removed from the image we have of it in all those old war movies. Until now.

Car tech supplier Magna just introduced what it calls iCON Radar, which sees the world more like LIDAR or a camera does, with more resolution and greater ability to discern objects from one another as well as their changing relationship in space, a handy skill for a sensor on a car. 

Specifically, iCON Radar shoots its signal out a much longer 300 meters, with aiming precision of less than 1 degree vertical or horizontal. It receives the signals back on a silicon receptor disc that is divided by software into 192 virtual receivers. All of that adds up to a radar that can work more rapidly, increasing its ability to follow things in motion, sort of like a camera with a higher frame rate. 

Startups Metawave and Echodyne are also developing radar for cars that goes after similar performance gains, using synthetic meta-materials not found in nature that make for radar antennas with advanced beamforming characteristics.

Check out the video and you'll see that this new radar appears to see the world in a way that looks a lot like the perceptions we see from LIDAR, the current darling of many auto engineers when it comes to helping cars see. We don't care how we get there, but anything that helps car perceive the world with more nuance, and fewer dumb, deadly mistakes is welcome and overdue.