Co-inventor Min Liang holds the new 3-D-printed Luneberg lens. (Photo: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona)
Co-inventor Min Liang holds the new 3-D-printed Luneberg lens. (Photo: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona)

Startup Licenses UA-Invented Radar System for Auto Industry

The College of Engineering inventions stand to improve automotive radar systems with inexpensive, high-performing Luneburg lenses.
Aug. 2, 2017
The Luneberg lens design is about the size of a quarter, making it an excellent option for small applications such as automotive radar. (Photo: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona)
The Luneberg lens design is about the size of a quarter, making it an excellent option for small applications such as automotive radar. (Photo: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona)

The University of Arizona has licensed a pair of technologies invented in the College of Engineering to UA startup Lunewave Inc., which is commercializing the inventions to provide improved radar systems for the automotive industry using inexpensive, high-performing, 3-D-printed Luneburg lenses.

Hao Xin, professor in the UA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was the lead inventor on both technologies.

"These technologies have applications in sensing and detection, autonomous cars and drones, pollution, water vapor detection, as well as wireless communication," Xin said. "We see huge opportunity."

Current commonly used technologies for advanced driver assistance systems require multiple expensive sensors, including LIDAR, ultrasonic and optics that have limited ranges and are sensitive to adverse weather conditions.

The UA-invented technologies, on the other hand, offer solutions that are more convenient and less expensive to manufacture, and deliver higher performance and greater bandwidth compared to the conventional radar technology. According to Xin, they will be a key enabler for future autonomous driving applications.

The inventors worked with Tech Launch Arizona, the office of the UA that commercializes inventions stemming from University research, to protect the intellectual property and develop their company launch strategy.

According to Bob Sleeper, TLA licensing manager for the College of Engineering, the technology offers an affordable option for a previously prohibitively expensive solution.

"Together, these two technologies may prove to be the key to allow traditionally expensive luxury car automotive safety systems to be included on much more popular and less expensive cars," Sleeper said.

The new radar system, invented by Xin and co-inventors assistant professor Siyang Cao and postdoctoral research associate Min Liang, uses a 3-D-printed Luneburg lens combined with embedded electronics and/or metalized film dielectrics to create improved vehicle safety systems that scan more efficiently, avoid interference from other intruding radar systems, and cover a full 360 degrees while replacing multiple more expensive, conventional sensors.  

While working with the team to create the startup, TLA provided a number of services to help the inventors, including ongoing consultations with experienced entrepreneur Steven Wood, a mentor-in-residence, and participation in the NSF I-Corps program administered by the office.

"No longer do customers have to accept broadband 'one size fits all' antennas," Wood said. "With Lunewave's novel design, antennas are custom-made for specific operating frequencies and bandwidths. These Luneburg lens antennas are quickly designed and sent to an additive manufacturing process to provide prospective clients with a fast solution."

The Lunewave team is a current participant in the Arizona Center for Innovation incubator at the UA's Rita Road Tech Park facility, where the team is executing on an NSF STTR (Small Business Technology Transfer) grant to scale up the technology.   

"Lunewave has the technology and leadership to significantly change the way connected and autonomous vehicles 'see' the world around them," Sleeper said, "and the UA is excited for their future as they grow and apply this technology to the much broader internet-of-things market."