Mine clearing, monitoring of vital signs and robot vision are among the many potential applications for Novelda's innovative radar technology. The company's tiny, unique processor chips are at the core of it all.
Novelda's hard-earned success began with a project on fundamental radar technology using principles developed at the University of Oslo. With the knowledge acquired, the Norwegian company has developed chips that are extremely fast, highly precise, run on very low power, and can be placed directly onto objects rather than metres away -- qualities that are making Novelda stand out on the global market.
The company is now launching its new generation of impulse-based radar chips with ultra-high resolution.
Novelda's radar technology can be applied to product development within a wide variety of sensor application areas.
"Much about our technology is completely new, and it takes lots of long-term planning and methodical work to develop attractive commercial products based on this technology," explains Alf-Egil Bogen, CEO of Novelda AS. "The funding we have received all along the way under the Research Council of Norway's programmes has in turn triggered private investment. This combined funding has been critical, providing us with opportunities we otherwise never would have had for carrying out the necessary R&D."
The Research Council's programme for User-driven Research-based Innovation (BIA) has provided funding support for three Novelda projects.
"The first of our projects with funding under the BIA programme ran from 2006 to 2008 and focused on the fundamental radar technology," recounts Dag T. Wisland, president and co-founder of the company. "Only now have the results truly come together, and we are launching our first proprietary commercial sensor. This illustrates how crucial it is to take a long-term approach when bringing such a new technology to the commercial market."
In addition to the BIA programme, Novelda has also received support from the Research Council's large-scale programme on Core Competence and Value Creation in ICT (VERDIKT) and the EU Commission under EUREKA's R&D programme, Eurostars.
Customers all around the world are using Novelda's technology to develop applications such as measuring asphalt thickness and snow depth. Another example is the collaboration between Novelda and Samsung Thales launched in April to develop a landmine detector mounted on vehicles.
"It's very gratifying for us at Novelda to supply technology that can help to save lives by finding landmines," says Mr Bogen.
"Through projects like these," adds company CMO Aage Kalsæg, "we learn about new kinds of application areas, and at the same time our partners learn about our technology and how it can be used to develop other applications. That combination opens a lot of exciting doors."
Potential medical applications
There is also widespread use for Novelda's radar transceivers in the health care sector, where they can be used in applications such as monitoring heart rate, taking wireless ECG readings, and measuring fluid in the lungs. These were targeted in the company's second BIA-funded project, which ran from 2009 to 2011 and included cooperation with the University of Oslo.
"We get lots of attention from cardiologists who are amazed by what we can do with our radar technology," says CEO Bogen. "Health care is one of the areas with the greatest potential for us, but this is where it takes the most time and effort to come out with a finished, profitable product. We are in the process of working out a business plan and looking at various medical projects to go forward with."
Radar with Superman vision
Novelda's mini-radar will open doors to more and more new application areas, such as building automation, security surveillance, technology for "intelligent homes" and more.
"Our radar can see right through things, so it could be placed out of sight, such as inside a wall," explains Mr Bogen. "It is also very accurate and easy to program to define its range of detection, which makes it ideal for surveillance. It could also control an air-conditioning system, for instance, or count the people in a room, or be used as a parking sensor."
"Helicopter technology is another interesting area," says Mr Kalsæg. "Many unmanned helicopter drones have trouble landing gently in rugged terrain. Conventional sensors see the top of high grass and calibrate for landing on it, and then hit the ground harder. Our radar sees through the grass to the actual ground, facilitating a soft landing."
Robot vision and consumer technology
Novelda is also working to develop robot vision as an application area. A robot using the mini-radar could avoid physical obstacles and navigate optimally by sensing its surroundings, regardless of light conditions. It would also be able to see through curtains and other such light objects. Ultimately, Novelda's developers hope to make the radar capable of mapping a room and laying out its own route to follow.
"The next breakthrough," Mr Bogen predicts, "will be in consumer-oriented radars in televisions, smoke detectors, thermostats, telephones and portable computer devices."
The current project on the mini-radar focuses in large part on determining the proper future course for the company's products. "The NTNU people are helping us to assess user experience and time to market," says Mr Wisland. "They are also involved in the innovation processes and are working on product design as well."
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