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Reconfigurable Radar

photo - 3 researchers in sound tunnel with radar device
GTRI researchers are developing an innovative phased-array design that will allow each antenna element to be reconfigured via software to perform a variety of different tasks. The work is part of a DARPA program aimed at speeding development of phased-array systems. Shown are Todd Lee, Ryan Westafer, and Hunter Chan. Photo: Rob Felt

Unlike traditional mechanical radars, modern phased-array antennas are solid-state devices that aim, transmit, and receive radar beams electronically. But they have a drawback: Each phased array must be built for a single type of application.

Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) are developing an innovative phased-array design in which each element contains more than 100 interconnected radio-frequency switches. This allows each radiating element of an entire array to be reconfigured via software to perform a variety of jobs. GTRI’s reconfigurable electromagnetic interface is part of Arrays at Commercial Timescales, a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program aimed at speeding development times for phased-array systems.

The GTRI design packs many tiny and digitally addressable switches onto half-inch-square tiles, which in turn can be used to build out large-scale antenna arrays. Backed by innovative gallium arsenide radio-frequency switches from corporate partner BAE Systems, each reconfigurable array element can independently perform essential antenna-related functions including beam steering, frequency tuning, and polarization. — Rick Robinson

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