Impacting society for nearly eight decades: That is the motto of the radar studies done by TNO. It all started with the 'electrical listening device,' a precursor of radar. Now, a new generation of researchers is working on the technology of the future.
‘Our first radar was the electrical listening device,’ says Frank van den Bogaart from TNO. ‘Shortly before the start of the Second World War, the military would use this radar at Malieveld, a large grass field in The Hague, the Netherlands, to locate incoming fighter planes. These were then caught in the search lights whereafter the military would engage the anti-aircraft battery.
Progress in leaps and bounds
‘In the decades that followed, radar technology developed in leaps and bounds, especially once digitalization enabled the change to advanced signal processing algorithms. APAR, the innovate radar found on the frigates of the Dutch, German, and Danish navies, combines three-dimensional image construction, target tracking, missile guidance, and lighting in one single system,’ explains Van den Bogaart.
The triple helix
Van den Bogaart has been directing TNO research for observation systems for the Dutch Ministry of Defence for over 25 years. In 1987, he was one of the first researchers in the Netherlands to work with monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMIC). These are chips that enable unprecedented miniaturization. TNO is a global leader in this technology. Van den Bogaart was also the initiator for Platform Nederland Radarland (the Netherlands national radar platform), in which the triple helix of government, knowledge institutes, and the business community combine their strengths in order to innovate. He is also a co-founder of D-Race, a strategic collaboration between TNO and the electrical system developer Thales Nederland.
Changes and applications
The initial focus of the research is for military and space travel applications. As the technology becomes more advanced and affordable, civil society can also benefit from the research that TNO is conducting together with others. Van den Bogaart explains, ‘The body scanners at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol are a great example of this. They can detect weapons hidden under clothing, allowing security to search the passenger in a targeted manner. This technology also has great application in medical centres and allows specialists to find the exact location of a tumour located in breast tissue, for example. While a radar cannot distinguish between an early-phase tumour and the healthy tissue surrounding it, we were able to precisely pinpoint the location of the tumour which has significant implications for future applications.'
The body scanners at Amsterdam Airport can detect weapons hidden under clothing, allowing security to search the passenger in a targeted manner
Measuring ball speed
At the 2014 Hockey World Cup, spectators were able to see the speed with the which a ball hit the back of the net through the simple use of an app. This was also an invention by TNO. ‘Our researchers were not allowed to go onto the field, make modifications to the goals, or tamper with the ball. By placing two modified radars used in the automotive industry diagonally behind the goal, they were able to meet the request of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Hockeybond (the Dutch national hockey association).'
In his role as a coach, Van den Bogaart also assists the next generation of researchers, like Laura Anitori, who was recently nominated for the excellent researcher award. ‘The last few years I have focused my scientific research on compressive sensing: an innovative signal processing technique,’ explains Anitori. ‘This method reduces the costs of a radar system, increases speeds, and improves performance.’
From theory to practice
Together with manufacturer Thales and the Royal Netherlands Navy, Anitori is looking at how this technology can be intelligently applied to the multipurpose frigate of the future. ‘This is the best part about my work at TNO: together with a team of experts we make the transition from scientific publication to practical application where we can observe how the system will work in an integrated system. Through this process you come across unforeseen issues that need to be solved.’
A demonstration at sea
A recent example of the abilities of radar technology could be observed at the At Sea Demonstration 2015, held near Scotland. Van den Bogaart explains, ‘The Royal Netherlands Navy used a Dutch radar system on a Dutch frigate in Dutch waters to demonstrate that it is able to follow a ballistic missile into space and to take it down with a missile launched from a US navy ship. At the same time they were able to intercept incoming cruise missiles with their own missiles.
The speed of innovation
‘Together with Thales and the Royal Netherlands Navy we have shown that we can improve the speed of innovation by bringing knowledge to the market together,’ states Van den Bogaart decisively. ‘It is gratifying to see how this works every single time.’