CSP-Based Time-Difference-of-Arrival Estimation

Let’s discuss an application of cyclostationary signal processing (CSP): time-delay estimation. The idea is that sampled data is available from two antennas (sensors), and there is a common signal component in each data set. The signal component in one data set is the time-delayed or time-advanced version of the component in the other set. This can happen when a plane-wave radio frequency (RF) signal propagates and impinges on the two antennas. In such a case, the RF signal arrives at the sensors with a time difference proportional to the distance between the sensors along the direction of propagation, and so the time-delay estimation is also commonly referred to as time-difference-of-arrival (TDOA) estimation.


Consider the diagram shown to the right. A distant transmitter emits a signal that is well-modeled as a plane wave once it reaches our two receivers. An individual wavefront of the signal arrives at the two sensors at different times.

The line segment AB is perpendicular to the direction of propagation for the RF signal. The angle \theta is called the angle of arrival (AOA). If we could estimate the AOA, we can tell the direction from which the signal arrives, which could be useful in a variety of settings. Since the triangle ABC is a right triangle, we have

\displaystyle \cos (\theta) = \frac{x}{d}. \hfill (1)

When \theta = 0, the wavefronts first strike receiver 2, then must propagate over x meters before striking receiver 1. On the other hand, when \theta = 90^\circ, each wavefront strikes the two receivers simultaneously. In the former case, the TDOA is maximum, and in the latter it is zero. The TDOA can be negative too, so that 180^\circ azimuthal degrees can be determined by estimating the TDOA.

In general, the wavefront must traverse x meters between striking receiver 2 and striking receiver 1,

\displaystyle x = d \cos(\theta). \hfill (2)

Assuming the speed of propagation is c meters/sec, the TDOA is given by

\displaystyle D = \frac{x}{c} = \frac{d\cos{\theta}}{c} \mbox{\rm \ \ seconds}. \hfill (3)

In this post I’ll review several methods of TDOA estimation, some of which employ CSP and some of which do not. We’ll see some of the advantages and disadvantages of the various classes of methods through inspection, simulation, and application to collected data.

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