News Article

Building a Better Radar System: Scalable architecture offers savings for signal processing
Date: Dec 15, 2009
Author: Joe Singleton
Source: MDA ( click here to go to the source)

Featured firm in this article: Colorado Engineering Inc of Colorado Springs, CO

by Joe Singleton/

Unmanned aerial vehicles, radars, medical imagers, and communications transmission stations could benefit from a new signal-processing architecture that is lightweight, scalable, and relatively inexpensive. The Radar Advanced Receiver/Exciter (RARE), developed by Colorado Engineering, Inc. (CEI; Colorado Springs, CO), integrates commercially available processing and interfacing technologies into a new framework that can compete directly against conventional signal-processing architectures involving a backplane.

Through a 2008 SBIR Phase II contract, MDA funded CEI to build a highly configurable signal and data processing architecture capable of maintaining high performance while minimizing development time.

CEI’s technology processes sensor data to make it usable. In radar or other sensing applications, an antenna collects signal energy emanating from a target of interest. RARE converts the target signals into digital form. It then filters, analyzes, culls, and further processes the data into a multitude of formats, depending upon the need of an end user. All of the data processing occurs in real time.

RARE’s design reduces the amount of space taken up to house signal processing hardware and software. The design conserves space by allowing users to stack and plug cards together in various configurations, depending on the intended application.

RARE integrates commercial off-the-shelf components, including processing cards and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), as well as associated interfaces and software code, which has been developed in house. The hardware components can be custom-scaled in cube- or tile-like formations to minimize the physical volume required and eliminate wasted space. For example, a tile-like layout allows for a thin, flat processing configuration that can easily fit into 19-inch enclosures used for standard network routers or switches, said Michael Bonato, CEI’s business development director. Scalability gives RARE its edge. For example, a particular imaging application may require only four processing cards. Manufacturers generally build backplane chassis to hold 20 processing cards. CEI recognizes the wasted space and can configure a small, compact processing cube or tile made up of just four cards capable of saving up to 80 percent of the space used by a common, 20-slot backplane system, according to the company.

Reducing the amount and size of hardware also allows users to design signal-processing systems that, overall, are smaller. A typical RARE system can measure 6×6×2 inches, while a backplane system requires 19×24×12 inches. This difference in size allows it to fit comfortably in nosecones of large UAVs.

RARE’s modularity is another advantage. When new processing capabilities become available, the architecture can adapt and enable systems to stay in operation for longer periods of time. The modularity and graphical programmability also provide for quicker prototype development and deployment of a system, using standard systems engineering programs such as MATLAB and Simulink.

And RARE stands to be more affordable, too. CEI officials estimate customers could save 67 percent by using RARE instead of conventional backplane systems. The company plans to price its RARE architecture at around $20,000, which includes a small power supply. In comparison, all required equipment to operate a comparable backplane-based system would cost about $60,000, according to company officials.

The RARE architecture continues to build interest and momentum throughout the military. In February, another Federal agency awarded CEI a multimillion dollar contract through a Broad Agency Announcement to develop a sense-and-avoid radar capability for UAVs using the RARE architecture. CEI’s technology also may soon find a home in the Navy. CEI and the Navy have discussed terms for Phase III funding that would build upon the work already done by them under the MDA Phase II SBIR project, according to the company.

CEI intends to market its RARE technology to the intelligence community, the Federal Aviation Administration, and UAV manufacturers. The company’s long-term plans include moving its architecture into the realm of biomedicine, specifically into MRI machines, as well as telecommunications base stations—two applications that use signal processing and require major cost and space savings. CEI continues to look for additional partnerships, alliances, and licensing agreements in the commercial sector.