ANIMATE – a new frontier in antenna design
Current antenna technology has been outpaced by integrated electronic circuits, which continue to develop exponentially. An interdisciplinary team of researchers, led by Professor Yang Hao, is exploring ways to create new antenna platforms that are programmable, flexible and fit for the future.
Antenna development has long been restricted by fundamental limits in physics – for example the Chu-Harrington’s Limit, which shows that there is a limit to the bandwidth of data that can be sent to and received from small antennas.
However the development of nano-technologies and novel nanomaterials such as graphene and Molybdenum disulphide (MoS2) has offered new possibilities. Professor Hao and his team are exploring ways to exploit these new materials and technologies to revolutionise the design of antennas. They are working to find new ways to remove the traditional boundary between design and materials.
In 2018, the project, named ANIMATE was awarded a grant by the EPSRC to further explore the possibilities.
How do these new antennas work?
There are many antennas which operate at different frequency bands, with high degrees of freedom in dynamically controlling polarisation states, radiation patterns and directions.
It is not possible to combine and rationalise these different types of antennas, due to mutual RF interference, weight, aerodynamic drag, cost and system complexity.
But new material technologies may offer solutions to these limiting issues. ANIMATE seeks to remove traditional boundaries, combining design, RF/microwave electronics, materials and devices. The ANIMATE scientists want to create a generic material platform that is programmable and flexible – integrating communication, sensing and computation.
The project is investigating integrating wireless sensor networks into the design of computer interface and control units. Thus the researchers are able to create materials which are actually tuneable.
They continue to research new active and tuneable materials and investigate the fundamental limits of relevant materials for industrial challenges.
Whatever is developed in the laboratory needs to work effectively in the real world, and so the ANIMATE team works with core industrial partners at all stages of development:
- toolbox validation
- platform integration
This includes developing simulation tools which assess materials, device and process modelling. In this way, they are able to develop optimal structures which show improved performance.
New meta-materials have been developed that have unique structures which interact with light and energy in ways not found in nature. This has led to breakthroughs in the area of transformation optics (TO), where a material’s optical properties can be designed to engineer various optical illusion effects. An example of this is the “invisibility cloak”.
The Queen Mary team, in collaboration with its partners and UK industries have used this technology to develop flat lens antennas – surface wave and metasurface devices that could be embedded into the skin of vehicles.
These do not affect the aerodynamic performance of the vehicle and offer remarkable potential in terms of the Internet of Things, CubeSat and Space Communications.
The flat lens antennas or “software defined materials”, have demonstrated far-reaching capabilities well beyond conventional antennas.
For example it would be possible to have a mobile handset which can have its software wirelessly upgraded, can be moved from 5G to 6G and even have its colour and shape changed. This has a positive environmental impact, giving physical devices a longer lifespan.
How can we make antennas smaller, cheaper and with more functionalities, so they can be used for real world problems such as 5G, 6G satellite communications and new space technologies?— Professor Yang Hao
What is the impact of these new developments?
ANIMATE works in partnership with QinetiQ, a multinational defence technology company, to enable the design, development and integration of novel electromagnetic devices and structures.
QinetiQ offers unique facilities for technical assurance, test and evaluation and training services. This partnership means that the technology can be moved forward in new products, which will be designed and produced in the UK.
The QinetiQ Advanced Services and Products division incubates technologies to products through partnership with clients including BAE, Thales and Huawei.
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