Smaller antennas for smaller wireless devices and still smaller micro-air vehicles

Feb 21, 2012

In most cases the size of the antenna within a wireless device is actually the limiting factor in the minimum achievable size of the device itself. As such, manufacturers must "build up" to the required antenna size. Dr. Grbic's team provides a way for manufacturers to either "build down" to a much smaller size, or with a smaller antenna, to allow additional room for more capabilities with built-in options.

Supported by a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Dr. Anthony Grbic utilizes an innovative fabrication process to produce small, efficient antennas.

When you thought our hand held could not get any smaller or more efficient, along comes Dr. Anthony Grbic and his research team from the Department of and Computer Science at the University of Michigan, with an the size of an quarter.

You may ask: why is this significant? Dr. Grbic, and his colleague Dr. Stephen Forrest, point out that in most cases the size of the antenna within a wireless device is actually the limiting factor in the minimum achievable size of the device itself. As such, manufacturers must "build up" to the required antenna size. Dr. Grbic's team provides a way for manufacturers to either "build down" to a much smaller size, or with a smaller antenna, to allow additional room for more capabilities with built-in options.

The key to this new design is the hemispherical shape of the antenna which takes advantage of volume—just imagine the top half of a sphere with a descending spiral antenna winding down to the base—instant miniaturization. Dr. Grbic notes that this hemispherical antenna concept had been around for several years, but there was no practical way to mass produce the spiral antenna pattern. The Grbic and Forrest teams overcame this obstacle with a simple metallic stamping process which is very quick, efficient and potentially inexpensive, while maintaining the same bandwidth as their larger counterparts.

Currently this antenna design operates in only one frequency band, so the next step is to make the antenna operate in multiple frequency bands for use in multiple applications. Talks are also underway with Bluetooth and WiFi communications manufacturers to utilize this new technology.

Of particular interest to the Air Force is the integration of these small and highly efficient antennas on autonomous micro-air vehicles, and taking this process one step further, the technique could be applied to the manufacture of conformal antennas that could be integrated onto the surface of an air vehicle—conforming to their low profile stealth design.

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