BWSI Course - Unmanned Air System–Synthetic Aperture Radar

The recent explosion of unmanned air vehicle (UAV) technology coupled with the miniaturization of electronics opens the door to countless applications and missions.  UAVs can provide unparalleled views at sporting events, images of structures which are not safely accessible to construction workers, and scenic aerial photography, all using low-cost camera technology.   One can also envision many applications of small UAV-based radar solutions, ranging from day/night autonomous tracking of objects of interest in all–weather conditions to change detection using radar imaging techniques to search and rescue. 


This year, the BWSI Unmanned Air System – Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAS-SAR) program will offer students the opportunity to explore the field of radar imaging by building and flying a radar on a small UAS and using it to image objects around campus.   The program consists of two components: (1) online course, open to all interested and committed students, and (2) a four-week summer program at MIT campus for a small group students (see BWSI Homepage for current year).  The online course will help students build a solid foundation in the fundamentals of UAV flight, linear algebra and coordinate transformations, the fundamentals of radar including the Doppler effect, and an introduction to the software tools used in radar processing.  During the summer, students will work in small groups alongside mentors to gain hands-on experience building, integrating, and processing data from a radar to image objects around campus.


Online Course

The online component for the BWSI UAS-SAR course contains important introductory material to provide students with the background required to successfully complete the four-week summer course.  In addition to the introductory material, the online course will expose students to real-world radar data and UAV motion properties.


Introduction and Prerequisites

  • Introduction to vectors
  • Linear transformations
  • Matrices and matrix manipulation
  • Software programming for data acquisition and signal processing

Radar Systems and UAV Technology

  • Flight dynamics
  • Fundamentals of propagation and radar range equation
  • Doppler effect and Doppler processing
  • Introduction to radar imaging


Summer Course

The four-week summer component of UAS-SAR will feature a mix of lectures from radar experts with hands-on laboratories with mini-capstone milestones at the end of each week.  Daily lectures will reinforce basic radar concepts and dive deep into the principles behind radar imaging.  Students will learn to interpret radar imagery, assess image quality, and understand what features are most clearly imaged. 


Week 1: Let’s Build a Radar

Students will build a functioning radar in steps, measuring terms in the radar equation, and at the end of the week complete the radar and data acquisition system.


Week 2: Let’s Build an Image

Students will begin to generate radar images using step-stare synthetic aperture radar mode on a rail system for very controlled motion effects.  Students will learn to compensate for platform motion and generate their first image of a corner reflector.


Week 3: Up, Up, and Away

During the third week, students will integrate the radar system onto a small UAV.  They will measure the UAV dynamics, and apply motion compensation to prepare for the final imaging challenge.


Week 4: Best Image Challenge

Students will select objects around campus to image, in hopes of becoming the first–ever BWSI Radar Imagery Champion.