Researcher develops new antenna to aid rural emergency workers

May 28, 2010
Aaron Traxinger holds an antenna developed by MSU researchers in collaboration with Advanced Acoustic Concepts, Inc., of Bozeman. The antenna is a cylinder that's about three inches in diameter and a foot long. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).

Emergency workers in rugged, rural areas may never lose a cell phone call again thanks to a new antenna developed by Montana State University researchers in collaboration with Advanced Acoustic Concepts, Inc.

Dropped calls when using a cell phone in rough terrain is a common problem that can be addressed by the MSU , according to the developers.

The MSU antenna is considered a "smart" or "adaptive array" antenna because it uses a computer chip to automatically aim the message transmission beam in the right direction, chooses the most appropriate signal strength, optimizes the strength of transmitted beams and adapts to the environment. The automatic control allows users to communicate in rugged terrain while on the move. Unlike normal antennas, which broadcast in all directions simultaneously, smart antennas maintain a direct signal between individuals users, which could mean fewer dropped calls and the ability to move more data, such as streaming video.

With help from student teams, the researchers built and successfully tested a prototype under mobile use in rugged Montana terrain. First responders in Eastern Montana, firefighters in the wilderness, telecommunications providers in remote areas and soldiers in Afghanistan are among those who might use the MSU technology that's available now for licensing.

Unlike most commercial smart antennas that have a limited range of 120 degrees or less, the MSU antenna can rapidly process signals in a 360-degree range.

The MSU antenna can lock onto one signal and tune out unwanted signals, giving users a stronger, clearer, more reliable signal than they'd have otherwise. The MSU antenna can track and hold a signal even when the sender or receiver is moving. It is also capable of high bandwidth transmissions such as sending live video. Users might want to optimize communications by integrating the antenna with other antennas to form a "meshed" network in a back-country environment for emergency response or military operations.

The MSU antenna is a cylinder about three inches in diameter and a foot long. It weighs less than eight pounds.

"We designed this intentionally to be small. It could be used in many applications where having something small and light is very desirable," said Richard Wolff, Gilhousen Telecommunications Chair in MSU's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Aaron Traxinger, a research engineer at Advanced Acoustic Concepts and graduate student at MSU, said, "It's extremely easy to set up, and there are all sorts of ways to set up the software."

Traxinger started worked for Advanced Acoustic Concepts in Bozeman after earning his bachelor's degree from MSU. The antenna was his first assignment at his new job, Traxinger said.

Wolff said Yikun Huang, a research associate professor in electrical and computer engineering, came up with the idea for the antenna about five years ago. Turning the idea into reality involved six students during the spring semester and many more before that. Participants over the years have been MSU undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty members; industry partner Advanced Acoustic Concepts, and students who spent summers at MSU through a National Science Foundation program called Research Experiences for Undergraduates.

Funding for the project came from a variety of sources, including Advanced Acoustic Concepts, the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Navy through the Small Business Innovation Research Program. Wolff's position as Gilhousen Chair was created thanks to a $5 million donation in 2001 from Karen and Klein Gilhousen, the co-founder of Qualcomm Inc., and a pioneer in the wireless field.

"The partnership between Advanced Acoustic Concepts and MSU has been a success for both private industry and the university," said Bob Testut, general manager of AAC's Montana operations. "The U.S. Navy acquires needed technology while MSU provides real world problems to the engineering students."

Explore further: Breakthrough in Wireless Devices Makes Earpieces Size Cell Phones Closer To Reality

Related Stories

James Bond-style technologies are closer to reality

July 21, 2004

James Bond-style technologies such as cell phones the size of earpieces and invisible sensors sprinkled about to detect toxins are closer to reality. University of Michigan researchers have figured out how to build wireless ...

Engineered metamaterials enable remarkably small antennas

January 26, 2010

In an advance that might interest Q-Branch, the gadget makers for James Bond, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and partners from industry and academia have designed and tested experimental antennas that ...

Recommended for you

Interactive tool lifts veil on the cost of nuclear energy

August 24, 2015

Despite the ever-changing landscape of energy economics, subject to the influence of new technologies and geopolitics, a new tool promises to root discussions about the cost of nuclear energy in hard evidence rather than ...

Smart home heating and cooling

August 28, 2015

Smart temperature-control devices—such as thermostats that learn and adjust to pre-programmed temperatures—are poised to increase comfort and save energy in homes.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.