08-03-2019 | | By Paul Whytock
Unless you’re a hermit living in a subterranean cavern in the Outer Hebrides you’ll be aware of how often our “Big Brother” society is watching you these days.
Street and highway CCTV systems, some with extremely sophisticated facial recognition capabilities, are a standard feature of modern urban existence.
But Big Brother has now got even bigger and some would say more pervasive than ever following the development of a radar transceiver that can detect the tiny movements of human breathing from around 50 feet away, no matter where you’re hiding.
This 8GHz UWB device was recently unveiled by IMEC, the technology research centre and it means that people detection and monitoring operations that use to be the domain of the camera will now fall within the remit of radar surveillance.
“With the new transceiver, we have an exceptional tool to create innovative smart building applications such as presence detection, people counting, fall detection, activity classification and even non-contact vital signs monitoring. This 8GHz radar builds on a tradition of other pioneering devices that IMEC is developing in the framework of its radar IC program for low-cost and low-power radar technologies based on standard CMOS technology. Our 140GHz radar for ultra-fine detection enables vital signs monitoring of car drivers or patients in hospitals, and can pave the way to better AR/VR systems, while our 79GHz phase-modulated digital radar IC envisions automotive applications in autonomous cars”, says Barend van Liempd, program manager at IMEC the Netherlands.
This is important because although cameras are perfectly suited to creating two-dimensional images, radar can generate a picture of the surrounding location or environment. Coupled with this is its ability to identify and measure human movement and also indicate what activity might be causing that movement. So definitely not something hotel security management should deploy in the honeymoon suites!
It also scores over conventional camera systems because it does not rely on adequate ambient lighting and radar can be sensitive enough to pick-up heartbeats and breathing patterns.
But it's not all plain sailing for radar systems. Many have the inherent characteristic of being overly power-hungry and using designs that demand expensive semiconductor components. This makes them unsuitable for low-cost battery-powered applications. This, says IMEC, is where the new transceiver scores.
The power consumption of the 8GHz UWB radar device is below 1mW, which is 100 times lower than many other solutions, claims IMEC. This makes it suitable for low-cost battery-powered people detection and counting applications in offices, hospitals and industrial sites.
The new transceiver is compliant with FCC and ETSI spectral regulations for the UWB frequency range thereby limiting the radiation to -41dBm/MHz. This energy density is well below that of mainstream commercial systems and consequently, this radar can be used constantly to detect and monitor people without risk to health.
The transceiver was designed in economically proven standard 40nm CMOS technology and has a die size of 1.8mm2. And this 8GHz radar joins other technologies that IMEC is developing within its radar IC program for economic and low-power radar technologies created on standard CMOS technology.
A spokesperson for the research centre commented: "Our 140GHz radar for ultra-fine detection enables vital signs monitoring of car drivers or patients in hospitals, and can pave the way to better AR/VR systems, while our 79GHz phase-modulated digital radar IC will find automotive applications in autonomous cars."
So in future what Big Brother could end up doing is watching and checking you while you drive and if it sees that your heart and respiration rates are going sky-high relieve you of driving control by switching the car to autonomous mode. Then it will be Big Brother and his radar watching the road ahead and steering the car while keeping your road-rage tantrums and heart rate down to acceptable levels.