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DIY Synthetic Aperture Radar 118

An anonymous reader lets us know about a DIY synthetic aperture radar built for $240 in parts (give or take). Here's PDF slideware from the Ph.D. student's research. "Using a discarded garage door opener, an old cordless drill, and a collection of surplus microwave parts, a high resolution X-band linear rail synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging system was developed for approximately $240 material cost. Entry into the field of radar cross section measurements or SAR algorithm development is often difficult due to the cost of high-end precision pulsed IF or other precision radar test instruments."
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DIY Synthetic Aperture Radar

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  • Crooks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by biryokumaru ( 822262 ) <> on Friday June 18, 2010 @10:24AM (#32612744)

    I'm part of a team who did something similar (We're presenting it at IEEE MWSCAS, it's much less cool than this, though). We built several thousands of dollars worth of test equipment using cheap junk and came out with stuff that was just as good. DIY folks have been doing this for decades, of course, but PhD students are now starting to publish these things. This is a big deal, and means that legitimate researchers can pick up this work and very easily enter a field of research their institutions may have previously been unable to fund. Our school has always just enlisted students to design and build all of our test equipment, but still. This is good.

    I didn't RTFA, but I certainly hope they've open-sourced their backend interface software and hardware designs as well. Of course, if you're disassembling a microwave, you can hardly patent the technology. Closing off access to your work kind of defeats the purpose in science, though.

  • Re:Crooks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kalirion ( 728907 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @10:45AM (#32613000)

    Yup, definitely sounds like something crooks would do.

    Wait, what am I missing?

  • Re:Crooks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by biryokumaru ( 822262 ) <> on Friday June 18, 2010 @10:47AM (#32613042)
    Haha, sorry, I never got to the point on that. The crooks are the people who charge $10,000 for something you can build in your garage for $50.
  • Re:DIY == Ph.D.? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:17PM (#32614002)
    Seriously, he isn't a troll. You opened your yap to dis some guys work, and you were requested to provide a reason why you feel qualified to so. So put up or shut up and be known as a weasel.
  • Re:Stop Him Now (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chargersfan420 ( 1487195 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:24PM (#32614100)

    This could fall into the hands of terrorists.

    Anything could fall into the hands of terrorists. This sort of statement is paranoia at its best.

  • Re:DIY == Ph.D.? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bigjeff5 ( 1143585 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:36PM (#32614314)

    I would think most of the great Ph.D.'s would be DIY, else what's the point? Your thesis is supposed to be original research, and serious research at that, so I don't see how coming up with a way of building extremely expensive technology at a tiny fraction of the cost in your garage is anything but exactly what a Ph.D. thesis is all about.

    It's not a book report or high school research paper, you know.

  • Re:Crooks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jschottm ( 317343 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:39PM (#32614374)

    What's your point? The grocery store wants to sell me a red pepper for $2 that I could grow for a few cents. That doesn't make them crooks, it's just the nature of capitalism and value add. Raising your own produce is only cheap if you know how to do it, have the space to do it, and are willing to put in the time to do so. And if your time is free. The free market also provides other options - I can get them cheaper at the farmers' market, but only during certain portions of the year and only if I'm willing to shop at specific times. It's all about tradeoffs and what people are willing to pay for.

    The crooks are the people who charge $10,000 for something you can build in your garage for $50.

    Most people can't build anything of the kind for any amount of money. How many people do you think know how to solder? The reason why this guy was able to build this for $240 is because he has a $150,000+ education, is far above average, and has access to the tools needed to make this.

    Are you proposing that you get paid minimum wage once you graduate because students are willing to work for free or cheap on projects? Or do you expect to get paid enough to live above a student quality lifestyle, pay back student loans, support a family, etc.? Are you advocating for communism?

    Does your $50 test equipment have a warranty? Support? Certification? Documentation? Insurance covering damages if it should short out and burn down the lab? Can a replacement be overnighted from the factory if need be? Are you factoring in the fact that your university is subsidized by research grants, donors, and possibly the government (if it's a public school) which distorts true costs? Are your scavenged parts going to be reliable? Are you providing health insurance for the people building the gear? Unemployment insurance? FICA? Paying rent on the facility? Allowing for a middle salesman who'll be vital to getting your product into customers' hands?

    The basic fact of capitalism is that you price your product and/or service as high as you think the market will pay. Unless there's a monopoly, either you've priced yourself appropriately or someone will undercut you and you'll have to lower your prices or go out of business. There's nothing wrong with aiming for the high end of a market. If you can double your prices and still get half of your business, you're doing less work for the same money. Of course, your customers might not be very loyal as a result.

    If you think that the test equipment is overpriced, once you graduate, find some investors and start your own company with better pricing. But I'd recommend taking a few business classes first. Even if you got your parts, tools, shipping, and rent for free (and paid no taxes), you'd still have to make and sell 4 or 5 pieces of test equipment at $50/each every week just to pay yourself minimum wage.

  • Re:DIY == Ph.D.? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Have Brain Will Rent ( 1031664 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @01:38PM (#32615430)

    That's a reasonable response. I think you would find many PH.D.'s - at least in the sciences, I won't venture to comment on the arts or fine arts - are entirely theoretical which I hope you would agree are not DIY - at least not DIY in the colloquial sense as I understand it. On your assertion that there is no point if it isn't DIY let me say that if it had been a thesis E=MC**2 would not be DIY, but I hope you agree there would be a point to it.

    building extremely expensive technology at a tiny fraction of the cost in your garage

    That would depend entirely on why it is inexpensive compared to the traditional alternative - which is one reason why I made my comment relate to the accuracy of the article summary. I agree the Ph.D. is supposed to be serious and original research. It is also supposed to contribute to our intellectual understanding of things in a significant way. Suppose there was a problem domain in which the best solution was so slow that the problem was, for all practical purposes, not solvable. Now someone comes up with a solution that makes getting an answer so fast that it becomes practical for many applications. That might be worth a Ph.D. and in part that would depend on how that new solution contributed to our deeper understanding of the original problem or some other problem of intellectual significance.

    Is coming up with a better approximation algorithm for travelling salesman of the same intellectual calibre as developing a proof for PNP?

    I would say no, and that the former would be a good Master's while the latter would obviously be a Ph.D. However the former could be a good Ph.D. if it also shed some light on the P, NP question or if it approximated the solution in a way fundamentally different than other approximations to the problem.

    One thing I might look at in the research that this article concerns is whether it was of the "we found a completely different way to do this and demonstrated it using cheap components, and this new method can be developed into a commercial product equalling current commercial products but at a fraction of the cost" type or was it "we built something essentially the same as existing systems, or different only in minor ways, but we used cheap components to achieve the same end" (or even "and resources that are actually quite valuable but happened to be cheap/free to us because of our unique circumstances"). And does it advance our understanding of synthetic aperture radar in a fundamental and significant way? But IMHO only making something financially cheaper isn't in and of itself worth a Ph.D. Of course YMMV.

    As the the Anonymous Cowards foaming at the mouth about "dissing" someone's work or demanding proof that I have done better or... clearly they have no understanding of the intellectual discourse expected in the Academy or of what entitles someone to critique something or to hold a dissenting opinion. I could be unkind but I'll refrain.

  • Re:Crooks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by biryokumaru ( 822262 ) <> on Friday June 18, 2010 @02:13PM (#32616064)

    It represents the distinction between every student having to reinvent the wheel for every project, and future students being able to build more complex testing equipment by combining together others' works.

    Saying this is bad can be liken to decrying scientists for standing on the shoulders of giants.

"The pathology is to want control, not that you ever get it, because of course you never do." -- Gregory Bateson