Originally developed and used primarily by the armed forces in the 1950s, radar has since established itself as a technology applied in a wide range of fields. These include navigation systems, defence, air traffic control, mapping and weather sensing, amongst others.

The applications for radar and, more generally, the need for remote sensing continue to grow rapidly, as societies change and as new technologies lead to new and previously unknown problems. The designs of these systems are also changing, not only based on technological advances, but also in response to the state of the environment, the use of ecologically appropriate materials, and the result of these systems becoming more ubiquitous and needing to be lower-power and safer.

The Radar Remote Sensing Group (RRSG) at UCT is involved in projects related to radar systems, as well as some that are within the broader area of monitoring and sensing systems.

Radar systems themselves can become highly complex and time-consuming to build; consequently the group has a set of larger projects that are done by teams, with the work being divided among multiple students. Currently, the RRSG projects include:

  • Passive radar system for monitoring air traffic using FM radio broadcast signals. This project focuses on a new technology, providing developing countries with a means to improve their air traffic control, at a much lower cost than with a conventional high-power radar.
  • The RRSG is also working on a new network of radar sensors, which is expected to provide very sensitive monitoring along coastlines, that will assist in poaching prevention and search and rescue, as well as in providing border monitoring to cut down on smuggling and piracy.
  • The group's expertise has provided staff and input to the South African Government’s development of the Karoo Array Telescope (KAT), a large radio telescope in the Northern Cape. The group is also assisting in the design of high performance computing platforms for this project.
  • The SASAR II (South African SAR II) project is a short wavelength synthetic aperture radar (SAR) system, used to produce high resolution images of land features used in mapping large areas of land from an aircraft. A major part of the SAR project is the high-speed digital data-acquisition system designed to handle the massive volumes of data that are acquired from the radar.

To provide advanced training in this field, UCT has started a master’s by coursework programme in Radio Frequency (RF) sensors and radar. This course is a joint UCT and CSIR project, especially designed to support both recent engineering graduates and industry professionals who want to become specialists in RF and radar. The course website is available here. This course provides an alternative to the usual master’s by full thesis option – the full thesis option is for students who want to focus on a specific project or who have a novel idea they want to take further as a new project, and which cumulates in writing up a thesis and an academic paper.