From PAN to WAN

The flexible antenna that can be incorporated in wearable devices. Credit: Amanda Myers.

The future will see a variety of networks from the very small to the very broad. At the smaller scale we have BAN (Body Area Networks) and PAN (Personal Area Networks) at the large scale we have Satellite networks covering several Countries.

What is needed is a way to interconnect smaller networks with larger ones.

In particular we already see a growing number of wearable devices and their number will keep growing in the coming years. In order to be really wearable, and not just portable such is the case for a cell phone, they need to morph into any shape, be flexible and adaptable to the shape changes of whatever objects they are embedded. 

Flexible electronics is looking at using materials that can bend still maintaining their functionality and progress is being made. Electronics has become so miniaturised that in most cases the "chip" can be so small that it is not actually affected by the change of shape of the object embedding it. A totally different situation occurs with the antenna since an antenna has to have a specific length and size depending on the frequency it operates.

This is where the invention from researchers at the North Carolina University comes handy.

They have been able to create a stretchable, rollable and twistable antenna that will return to its original shape thus ensuring proper reception and transmission. As the antenna gets twisted its capability of receiving transmitting a specific frequency (resonance frequency) changes and so it is important that it can came back to its original shape for best transmission, something that is important to decrease the power needed to ensure the understandability of the signal.

The researchers have found an ingenious way both to ensure that the antenna can go back to its original (designed) shape and to keep the changes in reception transmission within a limited range so that some compensation can take place at software level to maintain the intelligibility of the signal at low power.

The antenna looks like a patch and it is made by laying silver nanotubes in specific patterns. They are then covered by a liquid polymer that once sets it creates an elastic patch that works as the antenna.

Interesting how a variety of technologies are being used to pave the way for communications!

Author - Roberto Saracco

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