Goodbye, Bunny Ears: Future Antennas May be Flat

April 24, 2008 By Lisa Zyga feature
Smart-skin antenna
The smart-skin antenna could replace protruding antennas on airplanes to prevent weakening of the plane’s mechanical strength. The new antenna might also be used in consumer electronics devices. Credit: Seong Ho Son, et al.

The long, wiry antennas that protrude from airplanes, cars, cell phones – and even the bunny ears on some TVs – may one day become novelty items. Researchers are developing a smart-skin antenna that is simply a thin patch of electrical elements, which could contain a variety of antennas for different purposes within its palm-sized surface.

A team of researchers – Seong Ho Son and Soon Young Eom from the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute in the Republic of Korea, and Woonbong Hwang of the Pohang University of Science and Technology in the Republic of Korea – has recently developed a smart-skin material that contains embedded microstrip antennas. The smart-skin could, for example, become an integral part of a plane or other vehicle, where it could be used for radar, communications, broadcasting reception, GPS, and other applications.

“The smart-skin antenna provides a new paradigm where the structural surface becomes an antenna,” Hwang told “Because the new kind of antenna is integrated into the structural surface, the antenna can be aerodynamically designed; the appearance is very nice and no outer space is required for the antenna installation. [In airplanes,] the installation of protruding antennas weakens the mechanical strength of its structure. So the smart-skin antenna can also improve the structural performance.”

As the researchers explain in a study published in Smart Materials and Structures, the smart-skin is made of an organic honeycomb structure sandwiched between two dielectric layers. Several microstrip antennas – basically, metal patches – are embedded within the honeycomb structure in layers. The flat antennas can then radiate radio-frequency signals, and have a scanning range of 90 degrees.

Stacking microstrip antennas of slightly different sizes slightly offsets their frequencies, which in turn increases the bandwidth of the frequencies and enables faster functioning. The current system, which operates at 7.5 GHz frequency, has a bandwidth that exceeds 500 MHz.

The honeycomb structure can also accommodate antenna arrays to produce a directional radiation pattern. By precisely spacing the antennas and changing the phase, the array can also perform electronic beam scanning.

The researchers suggest that the new multi-functional smart-skin might replace the many antennas that typically protrude from vehicles. The flat antenna design could also lead to innovative radio-frequency communication in vehicles.

“The smart-skin antenna, with a lightweight, durable, and load-bearing structure, could replace the body and roof panels of vehicles,” Hwang said. “Then, the structural surface itself makes it possible to get services including AM/FM, TV, GPS, DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting), and DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting).”

Hwang added that consumer electronics devices, which often rely on wireless communication, could also use the smart-skin antenna concept.

“Traditionally, the necessary antennas are separately installed into the case of the device and/or are protruded from the case,” he said. “However, the smart-skin antenna technology is helpful to design the new case with structurally-integrated antennas in electronics devices such as cellular phones, laptop computers, etc.”

More information: Son, Seong Ho; Eom, Soon Young; and Hwang, Woonbong. “Development of a smart-skin phased array system with a honeycomb sandwich microstrip antenna.” Smart Mater. Struct. 17 (2008) 035012 (9pp).

Copyright 2008
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without the express written permission of

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4 / 5 (5) Apr 24, 2008
That sound you heard was a thousand scifi starship designers all crying out in horror. What will they do now that they can't just slap antennas onto their poorly designed spaceships to make them took futuristic?
5 / 5 (3) Apr 24, 2008
how are these microwave antennas going to repace the HF - VHF antennas on aircraft?
5 / 5 (6) Apr 24, 2008
Flat, or so-called "conformal antennas", have been used on airplanes for decades, because they have the advantages described here.

So what is the improvement that makes this particular antenna different?
3.3 / 5 (7) Apr 24, 2008
No direct mention was made of TV satellite dishes but since Digital Multimedia Broadcasting was mentioned and GPS which is satellite based, could I assume that this technology would help design satellite TV receivers that could be built into residence walls? While satellite dishes have gotten smaller and more difficult for closed regimes to control there are still many people living in these nations who are taking a significant risks to get information, education and entertainment that is not filtered and censored. A pizza sized dish on the outside of one's house is still not completely inconspicuous.
2 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2008
Well, can they be bent?

As to be built behind an airplanes fuselage.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2008
Link not working
More information: Son, Seong Ho; Eom, Soon Young; and Hwang, Woonbong. %u201CDevelopment of a smart-skin phased array system with a honeycomb sandwich microstrip antenna.%u201D Smart Mater. Struct. 17 (2008) 035012 (9pp).
Learn how to write good Code Please !
5 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2008
antennae sounds better imho.
not rated yet Apr 27, 2008
"Antennae" is used for insects.
Since a fundamental book by Kraus, people use to say "antennas" for radiowaves.
I have no personal opinion on such topics, as this is not my language.
not rated yet Apr 27, 2008
Hiding an antenna in a dictatorial country: forget it.

Police will know which channel you watch by asking it to your friends and neighbours who collaborate with them. Much easier than looking at your antenna.

In the so-called free country where I live, 5 to 20% of the population collaborate with the secret police. This proportion holds for both free neighbour countries I've lived in. I don't expect a dictature to have less accomplices.
not rated yet Apr 27, 2008
Flat antennas (or antennae as you like) for satellite TV existed. Dishes won clearly because they're cheaper and resist weather better.

They needed to be oriented perpendicular to the satellite, but one could taylor or adjust flat antennas to receive from other directions.
not rated yet Apr 27, 2008
For those of you unfamiliar with military technology achievement, this so called "flat antenna" was already invented by lockheed martin, and is currently used for military communication's and GPS purposes on the recently retired f117 stealth nighthawk, and virtually every other stealth aircraft to eliminate "hot spot" causing radar signitures. It is directly under the nose of the nighthawk aircraft, and is literally invisible when compared to the one pictured.

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