Aug 22, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at the University of Arizona have developed inexpensive 3D printed Luneberg lenses that could be used in radar systems for the automotive industry. The researchers have formed a startup, Lunewave, that will commercialize the technology.

Driver assistance systems are seen by many as the future of vehicular navigation. Tesla’s Autopilot is one of the most prominent examples of such systems in consumer vehicles, but many companies are now working on their own equivalent systems that will soon make driving more automated than ever.

While advanced computers and software are key to the decision-making of these systems, another integral part is the sensor and camera equipment that allows the system to “see” the road ahead of them, including other vehicles and potential obstacles.

And developing the next generation of sensors, cameras, and lenses for driver assistance systems could be an absolute goldmine. It therefore makes sense for researchers—such as those at the University of Arizona’s College of Engineering—to start exploring new technologies for such radar systems.

Hao Xin, a professor in the UA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering with 10 years of 3D printing experience, recently developed two technologies that could improve car radar systems: a 3D printed Luneberg lens, coupled with embedded electronics and/or metalized film dielectrics that improve the sight of the lens.

"These technologies have applications in sensing and detection, autonomous cars and drones, pollution, water vapor detection, as well as wireless communication," Xin said. "We see huge opportunity.”

But Xin’s technologies are different from existing ones. While many drivers assistance systems, Tesla’s included, use expensive sensors, ultrasonic, and optics, Xin’s technologies are inexpensive, convenient, and may even have wider ranges and greater resistance to adverse weather conditions. This means futuristic autonomous cars could soon become the norm rather than a luxury product.

"Together, these two technologies may prove to be the key to allow traditionally expensive luxury car automotive safety systems to be included on much more popular and less expensive cars," commented Bob Sleeper, licensing manager at Tech Launch Arizona (TLA), who helped the Arizona researchers protect the intellectual property of their creations for commercialization.

According to Xin and co-creators Siyang Cao and Min Liang, the technology results in an improved vehicle safety system that scans more efficiently, avoids interference from other systems, and covers 360 degrees.

So beneficial are these advantages that the researchers believed forming a startup to commercialize the technology was the only sensible route. So after 20 years of research, Xin will now be trying his hand at commercialization via new startup Lunewave. Xin will act as the company’s chief technology officer.

“With Lunewave's novel design, antennas are custom-made for specific operating frequencies and bandwidths,” said entrepreneur and TLA consultant Steven Wood. “These Luneburg lens antennas are quickly designed and sent to an additive manufacturing process to provide prospective clients with a fast solution.”

Lunewave, currently part of the Arizona Center for Innovation incubator, is now planning to scale up the technology.

“Lunewave has the technology and leadership to significantly change the way connected and autonomous vehicles 'see' the world around them,” Sleeper said. “The UA is excited for their future as they grow and apply this technology to the much broader internet-of-things market.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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