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Image shows a  countryside landscape with a pending storm in the dark clouds. An All-Digital Radar in the foreground is emitting Parabolic Radar Signals out into the sky  and a commercial airplane is flying over the clouds.
Image shows a  countryside landscape with a pending storm in the dark clouds. An All-Digital Radar in the foreground is emitting Parabolic Radar Signals out into the sky  and a commercial airplane is flying over the clouds.
   

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      SAVING LIVES WITH ALL-DIGITAL RADAR ENHANCED DETECTION AND FORECASTING


      What if you could detect a tornado with greater confidence minutes before the funnel reached the ground, posed a grave danger to life, and tracked its path along the ground with much greater accuracy?

      Today, meteorologists, data scientists, and engineers at the University of Oklahoma’s Advanced Radar Research Center (ARRC), in collaboration with Analog Devices Inc. (ADI), are designing, building, testing, and fielding a next-generation, all-digital polarimetric phased array radar system. The breakthrough innovation funded by NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) will allow for real-time monitoring, improved forecasting, and the earlier detection of severe weather than anything that has come before.

      “With the advanced radar system, we can see the detailed structure of the storm and detect rotating winds earlier, enabling much better warning time, reducing injuries, and preventing the loss of life,” said Bob Palmer, ARRC Executive Director and Meteorology Professor.

      ARRC’s new breed of radar pioneers must overcome significant size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP+C) hurdles, and daunting computational power challenges.

      AT A GLANCE

      ARRC RESEARCH ORGANIZATION

      Established in 2005, the University of Oklahoma’s Advanced Radar Research Center (ARRC) is the preeminent academic institution for enhancing safety, security, environmental quality, and economic prosperity through the research and development of advanced radar solutions.

      TECHNOLOGY

      A radar solution with decreased latency and increased resolution, accuracy, and data quality. Use advanced signal processing, phased array radar, and retrieval algorithms for enhanced severe storm observations.

      CHALLENGE

      Push the limits of technology and propose a cost-effective, reliable solution based on sound engineering and scientific principles. Enable large-scale, all-digital, phased array beamforming architectures and transceivers that reduce size, weight, and power (SWaP).

      GOAL

      Prevent the loss of life and property with enhanced detection and improved forecast models. Apply new radar technology to a broad range of applications to observe natural and man-made hazards. Reduce risk through a better understanding of the phenomena.

      AT THE CENTER OF THE STORM

      Image shows scenic focus on the Advanced Radar Research Center (ARRC); it is located on the campus of the the University of Oklahoma.
      Advanced Radar Research Center (ARRC), on the campus of the University of Oklahoma.

      Norman, OK—the state with the distinction of the most tornadoes in the world. It is here that a team of innovators at the Advanced Radar Research Center (ARRC) is developing a breakthrough radar solution offering a wider window to the early identification and continuous monitoring of severe weather. Advancements in early detection will result in more informed decisions, enabling the deployment of early warning notifications and emergency response services—protecting property, reducing injuries, and saving lives.

      ARRC is focused on extending the radar’s borders and providing greater accuracy with an all-digital radar technology capable of producing hundreds of highly targeted phased array beams sweeping an area continuously and creating a real-time, high resolution image. ARRC’s all-digital solution has wide-ranging applications, from better weather forecasts and meteorological research to enhanced aircraft tracking and noncooperative aircraft surveillance.

      “Back in early 2015, ARRC invited ADI to their research facility to attend a presentation about its phased array research initiative,” said Wyatt Taylor, Marketing Director, Multimarket Platform Group, ADI. ARRC was using our AD9361 chip as a prime component up to that point in time. “The chip was the first indication we might be able to construct an all-digital phased array radar, making severe storm and early tornado detection possible,” said Matt McCord, ARRC Radar Engineer.

      Headshot image of Matthew McCord, a Radar Enginner at ARRC. Headshot image of Matthew McCord, a Radar Enginner at ARRC.
      "The AD9371 chip became the core and key functional piece of our all-digital phased array system.”

      Matthew McCord

      Radar Engineer, ARRC

      ADI gave ARRC a heads-up about a next-generation integrated chip it was developing—the AD9371, a high performance wideband RF transceiver replacing as many as 20 discrete components while maintaining low power consumption levels. ARRC’s lead technologist expressed interest in examining the unreleased, not yet public documented chip and was granted early access.

      “We worked on migrating through the eval boards and issues related to calibration,” said McCord. “ADI provided updates, app support, and information sharing session, and provided us with other parts, including power monitors—the gatekeepers for our whole system—and the ADP5054, an enabling technology we use extensively for power supply”, he explained.

      PROJECT HORUS: THE HOLY GRAIL OF WEATHER OBSERVATION

      Later, after meeting with ADI, ARRC initiated research on Project Horus, an early high resolution, all-digital phased array radar funded by the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman. Currently, the prototype is on the scale of a demonstrator system.

      ARRC selected ADI’s all-digital waveform generators and receivers, low power, low latency, integrated data processing microchip, high performance data converters, and DSP to include behind every ‘element’ (antenna) on its all-digital mobile radar system.

      Graphic image of Horus; ARRC's All-digital architecture phased array mobile truck.
      Horus, ARRC’s all-digital architecture phased array mobile truck.

      ALL-DIGITAL RADAR: A GIANT LEAP FORWARD

      All-digital phased array radar systems hold the promise of producing many more beams, tracking many more targets, at a much higher resolution than existing radar systems.

      Like its analog phased array ‘cousin’, all-digital’s computer commands steer the radar beam, enabling the system to rapidly scan specific areas without using mechanical hardware, motors, or spinning radar dishes. But analog phased arrays are limited in performance by hardware. Analog systems can only create a few RF beams or ‘slices’ in the vertical dimension—putting a cap on both resolution and the number of targets tracked at any one time. Digital systems, in addition to overcoming these limitations, can also ‘evolve’ new capabilities simply via software upgrades.

      Graphic image of a conventional anlalog 2D radar. Plane in the sky and clouds while 2D radar detects very low-resolution information.

      ANALOG AND CONVENTIONAL ‘2D’ RADAR

      Conventional radar generates a limited number of beams in the horizontal dimension, producing a slice of low resolution information.

      Graphic image of a conventional analog 3D all-digital radar imaging. Plane in the sky and clouds while the 3D radar generates numerous beams both in horizonal and vertical dimensions, much higher resolution slices revealing detailed information.

      ALL-DIGITAL’S ‘3D’ IMAGING

      All-digital generates numerous beams in both the horizontal and vertical dimensions, producing many high resolution ‘slices’ revealing detailed information.

      “Conventional analog weather radar systems are usually pretty good at detecting a storm’s location, intensity, motion, etc., but lacks sufficient temporal resolution and spatial coverage for accurate observations and predictions of severe weather”, said David Bodine, ARRC Research Scientist and Meteorology Assistant Professor. “To accurately perceive the storm environment around us, radar must see in high resolution ‘slices’, in both the horizontal and vertical dimensions, and do it quickly”, he added.

      DIGITAL 'AT THE ELEMENT'

      'Digital at the element' makes all-digital’s giant leap in sensing possible, with a powerful data converter chip behind every antenna (element). A large all-digital phased array radar system may have as many as 20,000 antenna elements and require thousands of data converters. “The level of integration of the AD9371 enabled us to create all-digital at the element,” said McCord. “Before that, the size and cost would have ballooned, and you would have needed a small data center room and thousands and thousands of cables. It would have been a nightmare for everyone involved. Analog Devices’ AD9371 was the enabling technology”, he explained.

      Graphic image shows the top portion of an all-digital panel with antennas, as well as, the under side of one panel with focus on one area of the 'At-the-Element' sensing technology.
      All-Digital’s radiating ‘signals’ can be steered electronically, enabling the ability to control how, when, and where it scans.

      CREATING BEAMS FROM BEAMS

      All-digital’s beams are formed digitally during the post-processing of data. It’s only when the ADC processor chip ingests all the data that comes back on receive that beams are created—simply by applying math. “One can keep reapplying math to create as many beams as needed; you're just recomputing the data,” said Taylor. “And temporal resolution can be increased dramatically by dividing up beams into additional beams”, he added.

      With all-digital, one could ‘illuminate’ a region of the sky where there is a thunderstorm. Then, in real-time post-processing, create more beams to focus on a smaller area to identify the location of hail, intense rainfall, or a tornado in early formation.

      Graphic image shows all-digital phased array radar's parabolic signal creating mulitple beams to reveal objects. Here it shows clouds in sky and beams-from-beams. The more beams, the better data quality and image clarity.
      All-digital phased array radar creates multiple beams revealing object details. Beam patterns are created on receive of the returned signal. The more beams, the better the data quality and image clarity.

      “All-digital at the element phased array radar is many orders
      of magnitude a leap forward in capacity.”

      Matthew McCord, Radar Engineer | ARRC


      DETECTING A TORNADO IN EARLY FORMATION

      Tornadoes are complex systems that change rapidly. To perceive their path and the type of damage they may cause, one needs to observe them in detail every few seconds. Today’s radar imaging is evolving radar data from low resolution still frames into essentially high resolution movies that will allow meteorologists to track events in real time. All-digital technology accelerates updates from minutes to seconds, enabling scientists and researchers to observe phenomena in real time.

      Image of dark clouds after a storm. Sun rays are peaking through to reveal clear skies.

      “There are two types of weather radar in this world: those that provide data quickly and those that provide data with great spatial detail. Combining the two has never been done, until now.”

      David Bodine, Research Scientist | ARRC, Meteorology Assistant Professor


      FUTURE ALL-DIGITAL RADAR APPLICATIONS

      Unlike traditional radar systems, all-digital can be adaptively controlled, enabling software-defined antenna patterns and programmability on the fly. “They are future proof because you can program new applications with software upgrades rather than changing hardware,” said Palmer. Further innovations in form factor, and power will enable all-digital radar technology solutions to proliferate across markets—with the potential of creating scalable solutions that hold the promise of socio-economic benefits that can include:

      NEUTRALIZING DRONE SWARMS

      Graphic image shows on left side a blurred and pixelated image of sky with drones. The low image quality from Conventional Radar. On the right shows Clearer image with much more image data produced by the All-Digital Radar.

      An all-digital radar system could track thousands of objects simultaneously, as points in time and space, accompanied by their identity information. With conventional radar, if you have a threat that's taking up a large portion of the sky, you can't tell if it's one big thing or 1,000 small things.

      AVIATION

      Higher resolution imaging empowering air traffic controllers to safely slot planes in more tightly packed patterns, providing increased airspace capacity for more routes, and improved aviation economic efficiency

      SPACE

      Digital beamforming solutions for satellite communications, enabling next-gen software-defined satellites, intelligent beams, and flexibility in beam characteristics and areas that can be served simultaneously. Other important applications of digital radar include tracking and characterization of space debris (also known as space junk). These objects include nonfunctional satellites, abandoned launch vehicle stages, and most numerous, fragmentation debris from the breakup of derelict rocket bodies and spacecraft. As of January 2021, 21,901 artificial objects were reported in orbit above the Earth—and these are just objects large enough to be tracked currently. A real risk exists, as a collision of even a small object travelling at orbital velocity can destroy a spacecraft and endanger a human piloted mission.

      SURVEILLANCE

      Heightened critical surveillance support for protecting government and military establishments, and assets.

      DUAL PURPOSE RADARS

      Increased speed, sensitivity, scan scheduling, and narrow and wide beam flexibility, providing organizations such as the U.S. NOAA National Weather Service and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with the potential to leverage one integrated radar system that can do the work of two.

      WEATHER FORECASTING

      Better measurements feeding better data into weather models for enhanced forecasting and more timely advanced storm warnings, providing safer, more efficient ship, air, and ground transportation.

      “We work to keep abreast of other technologies ADI is developing as we look towards future opportunities.”

      Bob Palmer
      Executive Director, ARRC