In the past few years, automakers have been experimenting with new technology that will help drivers avoid unseen obstacles. Rearview cameras on some vehicles prevent us from backing into objects behind us. More recently, automatic emergency braking systems keep us from getting to close to vehicles driving in front of us.
But while this technology can be useful for human drivers, it has not yet reached the point where it can support a self-driving vehicle. However, that may soon change, thanks to advanced new silicon chips.
This year, three engineers were nominated for the 2015 German Future Prize for their work on tiny radar chips, which will make it possible to install radar systems in cars without all of the bulky mechanisms that such setups typically require.
"The key for us was the introduction of a special layer of silicon-germanium on top of the silicon base material," says engineer Ralf Bornefeld. "It wasn't easy to do. But we were successful and managed to reach even higher frequencies than those possible with gallium arsenide. This was a breakthrough, and the first step towards making radar a mass-product."
The ultimate goal is to use this new system to not only prevent forward collisions, but also to detect sudden threats, such as a vehicle that makes a quick turn into a blind spot. Thanks to the reduced cost of these chips, many safety experts believe they will soon become more common in consumer vehicles. In addition, there is a great deal of potential for using them to support the development of self-driving vehicles, which may one day replace cars driven by human altogether.