Photonic Radar Images Small Objects

The increasing demand for high-resolution and real-time recognition in radar applications has fueled the development of electronic radars with increased bandwidth, high operation frequency, and fast processing capability. However, the generation and processing of wideband radar signals place an additional hardware burden on complex and fast electronics, limiting its capability for high spatial resolution applications.

While photonics-assisted radars can operate at higher frequencies, they still rely heavily on expensive and sophisticated high-frequency electronic devices, such as benchtop digital microwave waveform generators, severely limiting bandwidth and practical utility. Here, for the first time, a photonics-based radar with >11 GHz bandwidth (exceeding 20 GHz without RF antenna bandwidth limitation) driven and processed by simple MHz-level-electronics-based acoustic-optic modulation is demonstrated, which radically eliminates the requirement for ultra-fast GHz-speed electronics for wideband radar signal generation and processing.

This wideband radar has centimeter-level spatial resolution and a real-time imaging rate of 200 frames per second1, allowing for high-resolution detection of the rapidly moving blades of an unmanned aerial vehicle. This radar lays the technological groundwork for next-generation broadband radars with significantly reduced system complexity, critical for ubiquitous sensing applications such as autopilot assistance, gesture recognition, environmental sensing, and medical imaging. Tests revealed that the system handled a wide range of frequencies without needing high-speed electronics.

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