Terahertz technologies for visionary innovations in communications and sensor technology
In the recently launched joint project “T-KOS” of the Research Fab Mi-croelectronics Germany (FMD), terahertz technology is now to be developed synergistically for industry in the fields of communication and sensor technology for the first time. Innovative system solutions in both areas can make a significant contribution to the successful im-plementation of future issues such as digitalization, Industry 4.0 or resource efficiency and thus strengthen Germany as a business location in the long term.
In our digitalized, high-tech world of life and work, the availability of communications and data connections is a basic requirement. The increasing mobility of users, the flexible use of broadband multimedia content (e.g., entertainment, medicine, logistics), and future technologies such as the Internet of Things or autonomous driving are increasing both the volume of data in mobile networks and the demands on the communications networks themselves. One promising option for increasing data capacity and usable bandwidth is the additional use of terahertz technologies. This forms the basis for innovation not only in the area of radio systems, but also in the area of non-destructive testing (NDT). Terahertz waves can penetrate most electrically non-conductive materials, such as ceramics or plastics, in a similar way to ultrasound and X-rays, but they operate without a coupling medium and require neither complex mechanical guidance nor radiation protection measures because, unlike X-rays, they are harmless to the human organism.
Although terahertz radiation is predestined for a wide range of applications, for example in security technology, quality assurance or materials testing, industrial introduction has so far failed due to the lack of availability of inexpensive, fast and high-resolution systems with optimized, AI-based image recognition algorithms. This is where the “T-KOS” project, initiated by the FMD and funded with 10 million euros by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), comes in.
Using synergies to enable innovations
In the joint project “T-KOS”, which started on May 1, 2021, a total of nine cooperation partners of FMD are working together with Fraunhofer ITWM to synergistically develop terahertz technology for wireless radio transmission, non-destructive testing technology, spectroscopy, and non-contact inline measurement technology. To this end, the technological competencies for communication and sensor technology distributed in the FMD are being brought together and expanded by know-how in the area of signal processing in order to be able to offer industrial customers innovative system solutions. During the one-year project period, various demonstrators will be developed that address the future fields of high-frequency electronics, terahertz photonics and wireless, high-bit-rate communication.
Dr. Dirk Nüßler, project leader and deputy director of Fraunhofer FHR, explains, “The overall project goals are to establish a German value chain to terahertz wireless links, e.g. for high-bit-rate communication in industrial production, inline monitoring of production processes with AI-based, real-time imaging processing for resource-efficient production, and first-of-its-kind industrial-grade terahertz communication and sensor technology by combining scalable electronic and photonic concepts.”
To achieve these project goals, the project is organized along three parallel development strands that are interconnected at key points. “For the development strands terahertz photonics, terahertz line scan camera and terahertz communication, various demonstrators can be realized within the comparatively short project duration of 12 months, which go far beyond the current state of the art.” explains Prof. Björn Globisch, group leader at Fraunhofer HHI and professor for “Terahertz Sensor Technology” at the Technische Universität Berlin.
Dr. Andreas Grimm, technology park manager for compound semiconductors at FMD concludes: “The existing collaboration within FMD has been the basis for the project development, so we are delighted that the BMBF funding will give us the opportunity for the first time to leverage the synergies of terahertz technology and make an offer to industry for various applications.”
Fraunhofer IAF researches MMICs and modules from 250 - 520 GHz
Within the project “T-KOS”, Fraunhofer IAF develops concepts and demonstrators for reconfigurable THz picocell networks and ultra-wideband radar sensors for high-resolution imaging camera systems. The focus is on the development, fabrication and characterization of THz front-ends in IAF 35-nm InGaAs-based HEMT technology and system integration with antennas up to the signal processing interface. Industrially applicable solutions for the considered frequency ranges 250-320 GHz, 360-440 GHz, and 450-520 GHz will be demonstrated for the first time.
About project “T-KOS”
In the joint project “T-KOS”, the nine cooperation partners of FMD, Fraunhofer ENAS, HHI, FHR, IAF, IMS, IPMS and IZM as well as Leibniz FBH and IHP work together with Fraunhofer ITWM. The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF) (grant numbers 16KIS1404K, 16KIS1405 and 16KIS1406).
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To the press release from FMD: Terahertz-Technologien für zukunftsweisende Innovationen in Kommunikation und Sensorik