To make communications devices more reliable, Ohio State University researchers are finding ways to incorporate radio antennas directly into clothing, using plastic film and metallic thread.
In the current issue of the journal IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters, they report a new antenna design with a range four times larger than that of a conventional antenna worn on the body – one that is used by American soldiers today.
“Our primary goal is to improve communications reliability and the mobility of the soldiers,” said Chi-Chih Chen, a research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State. “But the same technology could work for police officers, fire fighters, astronauts – anybody who needs to keep their hands free for important work.”
For typical foot soldiers, mobility and communications are often at odds. An antenna can be a large and unwieldy addition to an already heavy load.
The idea of embedding communications devices in clothing to address this problem is not new, Chen explained. The Ohio State system takes elements from previous research and combines them in a new way, with the addition of a unique computer control device that lets multiple antennas work together in a single piece of clothing.
The result is a communications system that can send and receive signals in all directions, even through walls and inside a building, without a need for the wearer to carry an external antenna.
John Volakis, the Roy & Lois Chope Chair Professor and Director of the ElectroScience Laboratory at Ohio State, found a common analogy for the new design.
“In a way, we’re doing what’s already been done on a cell phone. You don’t see cell phones with external antennas anymore, because the antenna is part of the body of the phone,” Volakis said.
When antennas make contact with the human skin, however, the body tends to absorb radio signals and form a short circuit – a fact driven home by the recent difficulties with the antenna placement on the iPhone 4. Also, if an antenna is improperly placed, a person’s body can block it when he or she moves against a wall or other obstacles.
The Ohio State system overcomes these problems by surrounding the body with several antennas that work together to transmit or receive a signal, no matter which way a person is facing. An integrated computer control device senses body movement and switches between the antennas to activate the one with the best performance given the body’s position.
The engineers created a prototype antenna by etching thin layers of brass on a commercially available plastic film, called FR-4. The film is light and flexible, and can be sewn onto fabric.
They attached it into a vest at four locations –chest, back, and both shoulders. The computer controller – a metal box a little smaller than a credit card and an inch thick – was worn on a belt.
In laboratory tests, the experimental antenna system provided significantly greater signal strength compared to a conventional military “whip” antenna, enabling a range of communications four times larger.
Perhaps most importantly, the new antenna system worked in all directions, even as researchers tested it inside the hallways of the ElectroScience Lab, where doors and windows would normally interfere with the signal.
Key to the technology was the engineers’ development of network communications coding to coordinate the signals among the antennas. Doctoral student Gil-Young Lee developed a computer module to make the antenna control automatic. Lee, Chen, and Volakis co-authored the IEEE paper with Dimitrios Psychoudakis, senior research associate at the ElectroScience Lab.
They are partnering with an antenna design company, Applied EM of Hampton, VA, to commercialize the research, which was funded by a Small Business Innovation Research grant.
Chen currently estimates that the antenna systems, as demonstrated in the prototype, would cost $200 per person to implement, but mass production would bring that cost significantly down.
In the meantime, the engineers are working on printing antennas directly onto clothing, and embroidering antennas into clothing with metallic threads. A typical home sewing machine is now part of their laboratory equipment, and early tests have shown that the swirly designs they’ve embroidered into fabrics such as cotton – and even taffeta – can work as functional antennas.
That’s why Volakis envisions the technology to be adaptable for the general public. The elderly or disabled could wear clothing that would let them communicate in case of emergency, without the stigma they might feel in wearing a more visible assistive device.
“Imagine a vest or shirt, or even a fancy ball gown made with this technology,” he said, scrunching a sample of embroidered taffeta in his hand. “The antennas would be inconspicuous, and even attractive. People would want to wear them.”Contact: Chi-Chih Chen, (614) 292-3403; Chen.firstname.lastname@example.org
Pam Frost Gorder | Newswise Science News
On patrol in social networks
25.01.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation IAO
Tile Based DASH Streaming for Virtual Reality with HEVC from Fraunhofer HHI
03.01.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Nachrichtentechnik Heinrich-Hertz-Institut
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy