Dr Kashif Siddiq of Oxford RF Solutions

Cutting-edge radar for ADAS and self-driving

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Revolutionary self-driving tech: Oxford RF’s solid-state 360-degree sensor

In this Cars of the Future exclusive, we talk solid-state 360-degree radar, ADAS, self-driving and Zenzic success with Dr Kashif Siddiq, founder of Oxford RF Solutions.

How did you come up with the 360-degree radar idea?

KS: “We’ve specialised in radar and sensor technologies for 15 years, creating a lot of tech for other businesses. Then it struck us that there’s a huge gap in the market.

“The problem we see is people taking off-the-shelf sensors and bolting them to vehicles to try and make them autonomous. This probably isn’t the right way of doing it. What we need is sensors designed specifically for autonomous vehicles. That was the idea behind Oxford RF.

“We’ve developed a prototype which solves some of the burning challenges in perception sensors for ADAS and self-driving. It also has drone, space and marine applications. It is the world’s first solid-state 360-degree sensor. Actually, we’ve already taken it to the next level by making it hemispherical, so it can see upwards in a dome as well as all-round.

“There are no moving parts and we have the capability to integrate multiple technologies within the same box, but we’re focusing mainly on radar for now.”

Oxford RF and the APC

Oxford RF has been supported by the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) via its Technology Developer Accelerator Programme (TDAP), including collaboration with the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG).

Self-driving investment: Oxford RF has been supported by the Advanced Propulsion Centre

And won funding as one of 2022’s Zenzic CAM Scale-Up winners

KS: “We applied last year but at that stage we only had an idea rather than a technology to test. Now we have a working prototype and are really leading the thought process when it comes to perception sensing.

“The current situation with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) is a mix of cameras, radars and lidars being used to effectively give a full 360-degree picture. There’s an architectural problem with this. First of all, the price.

“Each of those sensors is expensive and there’s so many of them. Then, obviously, all that data needs to be routed to a centralised computer, and that causes latency. Milliseconds are valuable when it comes to saving lives.

“Another issue is redundancy: what’s the backup if one sensor fails? All too often the answer is another sensor, which means yet more cost. And you start to run into the mutual interference problem.”

Self-driving winners: Zenzic CAM Scale-Up Programme (2022 cohort)
Self driving winners: Zenzic CAM Scale-Up Programme (2022 cohort)

Safety-critical benefits

KS: “In a nutshell, we’ve reengineered sensor architecture. It doesn’t need to be radar, it can be any sensor. This allows us to reduce the sensor count.

“Initially we installed them on the car roof, but we’re moving them to the four corners, inside the bumpers. Less sensors means less latency in decision making, so it’s a faster system overall. It’s also inherently more resilient to interference.

“From a safety critical point of view, the four corners approach comes with redundancy built-in, because if one of the 360-degree sensors fails, two others are still looking at the same point.

“Delivering visibility in all conditions has to be seen as a deep tech problem and solved on a scientific basis. Are we able to reduce the mortality rate? That’s the real acid test.

“Further to that, from a finance point of view, can we reduce the cost of what I call the minimum viable sensor suite? Does that enable manufacturers to reduce car prices? Or insurers to reduce premiums due to less crashes?

ADAS first, then self-driving

KS: “We’re taking a beachhead approach and the first application will be ADAS. We’ll prove our technology there and then scale to full autonomy. Over the next year, we’re planning to produce about 100 of our solid-state 360-degree radars, to expand trials with our initial customers.

“We’re planning to start commercial production in 2024. From there, we’ll expand into other markets, as many as we practically can. For example, in drone applications, we’ll usually only need one sensor. For spacecraft, we’re looking at two front-facing sensors. For marine vessels, we’re talking about three sensors – one on the bow and two on the stern.

“It will take time to develop our business to a level where we can supply all of these markets, but it’s really good to see that there’s already significant interest.”

For further info, visit the Oxford RF website

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Author: Neil Kennett

Neil is MD of Featurebank Ltd. He launched Carsofthefuture.co.uk in 2019.