Imec, a world-leading research and innovation hub specializing in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, made a groundbreaking announcement at this year’s VLSI Technology Symposium. The organization presented its pioneering IEEE 802.15.4z compliant impulse radio (IR) ultra-wideband (UWB) transceiver, designed to revolutionize high-precision ranging capabilities. Imec’s transceiver chip, built on a cost-efficient silicon platform, achieves an unprecedented ranging precision of 1.4mm while boasting record low power consumption. This remarkable achievement sets the stage for a wide array of innovative applications, particularly in the automotive sector. For instance, the transceiver chip enables the development of UWB radar-on-chip systems for in-cabin presence detection and driver monitoring.
The IEEE 802.15.4z compliant IR-UWB transceiver represents a device that adheres to the specifications outlined by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for wireless communication utilizing ultra-wideband technology. UWB communication involves transmitting short-duration pulses over a broad frequency spectrum, delivering exceptional ranging and localization capabilities. This technology finds application in various domains such as automotive, smart industry, smart home, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Imec’s UWB transceiver chip, in compliance with the IEEE 802.15.4z standard, combines IR technology with ultra-wideband capabilities. IR technology employs short-duration pulses to transmit data in UWB communication. By leveraging accurate ranging and localization, the transceiver chip proves ideal for applications such as in-cabin presence detection and driver monitoring in automotive systems.
The adherence to the IEEE 802.15.4z standard ensures interoperability and compatibility between Imec’s transceiver chip and other UWB devices and systems following the same standard. This fosters the development of a standardized UWB communication ecosystem, facilitating seamless integration and communication among devices from different manufacturers.
IR-UWB technology unlocks a multitude of possibilities in automotive, smart industry, smart home, and IoT applications, thanks to its exceptional ranging and localization capabilities. It empowers users to pinpoint assets in environments like warehouses, hospitals, and factories with centimeter-level precision. Moreover, IR-UWB aids individuals in navigating expansive spaces such as airports and shopping malls. One of the key advantages of IR-UWB over narrowband technologies like Bluetooth lies in its superior ranging precision. However, it is worth noting that IR-UWB typically entails more complex and costly circuits and exhibits higher power dissipation.
Christian Bachmann, the program director of wireless sensing at Imec, expressed his enthusiasm about the UWB transceiver chip, stating, “With the presentation of our UWB transceiver chip, Imec overcomes yet another hurdle to UWB’s widespread adoption. Building on a cost-efficient silicon layout, the transceiver achieves the best-ranging precision with the lowest power consumption among state-of-the-art IEEE 802.15.4z radios.”
Imec’s UWB transceiver chip, fabricated using 28nm CMOS technology and occupying a mere 1.33mm of silicon area, operates within the 6 to 9GHz frequency range specified by the IEEE 802.15.4z standard. It achieves an exceptional ranging precision of 1.4mm, outperforming competing approaches by several orders of magnitude. Remarkably, this accomplishment does not come at the expense of increased power consumption. The transceiver chip consumes a mere 8.7mW/21mW in continuous transmit/receive mode while satisfying UWB’s stringent international spectral emission regulations.
The chip’s record-breaking low power consumption stems from its highly optimized, low-power, and interference-resilient receiver (Rx) architecture, coupled with an innovative digital polar transmitter architecture. Additionally, a distributed, two-stage all-digital phase-locked loop (PLL) further reduces power consumption and contributes to reduced measurement time for localization. To enhance ranging performance while complying with spectrum regulations, the system employs an analog finite impulse response (FIR)-based transmit (Tx) pre-emphasis approach, enabling advanced and flexible pulse shaping.
Christian Bachmann highlighted Imec’s longstanding research and development in the UWB field, including the creation of the world’s first sub-5mW UWB transmitter chip for the IEEE 802.15.4z standard in 2021 and a UWB radio capable of supporting data rates of up to 1.66Gb/s in 2022. Bachmann emphasized that the presented UWB transceiver chip represents a critical milestone in meeting industry demands for high-performance, low-power transceivers capable of supporting diverse use cases. Imec believes that this chip could pave the way for a new generation of UWB applications, combining ranging, communications, and radar functionality. Automotive applications, such as in-cabin presence detection and driver monitoring, stand to benefit significantly from the underlying technology’s measurement accuracy and energy efficiency.
Imec works closely with a wide range of industrial partners to facilitate the commercialization of its technological breakthroughs. In the UWB domain, one such partner is CEVA, a leading provider of wireless connectivity and smart sensing technologies. Tal Shalev, Vice President and General Manager of the Wireless IoT BU at CEVA, expressed full support for Imec’s belief in UWB’s immense potential across a variety of applications, particularly in demanding automotive applications like in-cabin radar for child presence detection. Collaborating with Imec in the UWB domain enables CEVA to offer a comprehensive solution that accelerates time-to-market for their joint customers, leading the way in the era of connected devices and smart industries. CEVA’s UWB 802.15.4z modem, paired with CCC/FiRa MAC, offers low power, low latency, and high-precision ranging architecture, perfectly complementing Imec’s innovative UWB transceiver.