Ultra-wide band radio re-emerges to find role in accurate geo-positioning

April 22, 2013 // By Julien Happich
Fabless semiconductor company BeSpoon and CEA-Leti have demonstrated an impulse radio ultra-wide band (IR-UWB) integrated circuit able to measure distances within a few centimeters of accuracy.

During their experiments with early prototypes, the companies have established what they claim to be a world-record operating range at 880m when following IR-UWB's standard regulations,  and 3,641m when in compliance with the regulations for emergency situations.

The chip, jointly designed by BeSpoon and Leti, features a full IR-UWB CMOS-integrated transceiver that is able to perform accurate distance measurements. The standalone chip (RF front-end and digital base band) was designed to be “smartphone-friendly” in the sense that it could exploit the components already available on most smartphones to become operational, allowing OEMs to design-in the new capability for only the cost of the new chip.

CEA-Leti has worked on UWB for the past 12 years, initiating its first research program on the topic in 2000. It is only after a decade of exploration and abandoning unproductive projects that some results became commercially exploitable, explained Pierre-Damien Berger, a researcher at CEA Leti.

This is when Jean-Marie André, now BeSpoon’s CEO, became convinced that the technology could yield new functionalities and new services around very accurate geolocation. It took another three years of investigations under a joint research program established with CEA-Leti for BeSpoon to cover the gap between its initial proof of concept and product industrialisation.

“From the very beginning, there were several companies interested in this technology, but few had the expertise to cover the last mile, from academic results to a real product” explained Jean-Marie André. “Now we have several big names among our strategic partners, large system integrators who are currently exploring different use cases and who would be our first customers if we can supply them the chips in volume.”

Several wafers were produced at CEA-Leti and André expects the IC to ramp up in volume production in “several quarters”, probably early next year, to be produced using STMicro’s foundry services.

“Today, about 95% of indoor positioning solutions rely on WiFi signal strength which varies a lot,