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'[OT] Impulse radar micropowered for sensor apps'
1999\07\24@010615 by Ravi Pailoor

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<CENTER><H2>Impulse radar micropowered for sensor apps</H2></CENTER>
<P>
<CENTER><FONT SIZE = 4><I>By Gail Robinson</I></FONT></CENTER><P>

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- A three-year-old technology rooted in a radar technique discovered roughly a century ago is rapidly amassing practical appllications as a low-cost, high-precision sensor. Developed here at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, micropower impulse radar (MIR) harnesses the speed of light for precise motion control by combining digital logic with microwave techniques at a fraction of the cost of traditional equipment.<P>

Conceived as a diagnostic system for Nova, Livermore's high-power laser, MIR technology has since been licensed to15 companies, and 20 licenses are said to be pending. &quot;This is about using the speed of light with a low-cost gizmo,&quot; said MIR inventor Tom McEwan. &quot;We're making radar available to the consumer for $10 or less.&quot;<P>

The technology is based on pulse-echo radar, discovered around the turn of the century.  Such radar leverages the speed of light as an integral component of its operation, measuring the echo that results when a pulse strikes an object to determine that object's distance from the pulse source. <P>

Conventional radar systems transmit several thousand such pulses per second. MIR, by contrast, sends out over 1 million.<P>

&quot;In the past, people used radio waves, but nobody cared how fast they were going,&quot; McEwan said.  &quot;Now the consumer can use devices that actually clock the speed of light in the form of microwave propagation, allowing them to do things that they could never do before.&quot;<P>

Using 1-micron CMOS circuitry and discrete surface-mount packaging, McEwan's design fuses high-speed sampling and time-based concepts to yield a low-cost system that offers precise response at close range (less than 200 feet). A 1.5-inch-square MIR circuit board can reportedly be built for $10 or $15 and can perform tasks that would conventionally require $40,000 equipment. The system is expected to be re-duced to a single silicon chip within a year.<P>

Because it can run on low power, it is said to be ideal for implants; at 60 µA and 2.5 V, a complete radar unit, includ-ing the transmitter and receiver, can run for three years on a lithium AA battery. McEwan believes the power requirements can fairly easily be pared to 20 µA. <p>

Licensee Data Systems Inc. has employed the technology in a battery-operated device that can be used to monitor rivers for flash flooding and to safeguard wastewater-treatment pools against overflow. And Amerigon Inc. (Monrovia, Calif.) plans to manufacture MIRE-based automobile-safety devices, such as parking aids and back-up warning systems, starting this year. <p>

Data Systems' implementation -- an electronic dipstick, or what McEwan calls a &quot;poor man's TDR [time-delay reflectometer]&quot; -- could cost as littlle as $10 to make. That would bring the selling price considerably below the $10,000 to $50,000 of a conventional TDR system.<p>

The system sends a 200-ps-wide impulse down a coaxial cable that goes to the top of the tank. A single wire transmission line or electromagnetic guide wire is positioned further down in the tank. In operation, a transmitted pulse hits the fluid level, reflects back and enters a circuit that measures the interval between transmit and receive. <p>

A reflection is also generated at the top of the tank; the difference between that reflection and the reflection off the liquid level is the differential measurement. <p>

&quot;The differential measurement works wonders because the whole concept requires doing it dirt cheap and using off-the-shelf components,&quot; said McEwan.<p>

Since temperature changes affect the timing of CMOS circuits, the absolute (as opposed to the differential) measurement would require correction. &quot;The temperature would cause the measured distance to drift by several inches, so you would have a large error because of the temperature and the propagation delay in the gates,&quot; he said. With differential measurement, by contrast, drift is not a factor, &quot;because the pulses coming back are time-locked to-gether; they are sequenced in one conductor.&quot;<p>

Through sampling, a precise equivalent time measurement can be made at picosecond accuracy. Short-term jitter on the dipstick is kept to 50 fs as a result of averaging and of the CMOS technology's low noise. With accuracy within one-tenth of 1 percent, the system is workable in temperatures ranging from &#173;55¡C to 85¡C and can be used for measuring fluid levels in gas, oil, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, with future uses envisioned in such consumer goods as washing machines and autos.<P>


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