New Antenna Tech In the Future

When your future phone is expected to support Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth and maybe more (ZigBee? Broadcast TV?), how are you going to fit it all inside? The chips and radios get smaller, but usually each frequency band needs its own antenna — so your handheld might swiftly become the size of your laptop.

Not the case if you believe in RANTED. Short for Re-orientable Aligned Carbon Nanotube Dielectric Devices, it’s a project of Advance Nanotech, Alps and Dow Corning through their joint funding of the Center for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE) at the University of Cambridge, England, part of the Department of Engineering of the University of Cambridge. The goal: create a proof-of-concept programmable high-gain antenna to serve multiple frequency bands in a single handheld product within two years.

“We’re focusing on real estate,” says Dr. Peter Gammel, Senior Vice President of Electronics at Advance Nanotech. “Where do you put all these antennas? [Manufacturers] don’t want products to look like a Jetson’s appliance, with antennas sticking out at all angles.”

The goal is to create something at the physical (PHY) layer that handles the work. Gammel calls it a “materials play,” which makes sense, considering the presence of partners like Dow Corning. None of the CAPE partners compete directly, so Gammel says the project is “a natural place for us to come together… it helps us drive mutual interests forward.”

He calls CAPE a “fantastically rich intellectual environment which is neutral in the corporate world.”

Gammel’s company, Advance Nanotech, has only been around since 2003. It specifically exists to move products from a discovery phase to the point of “proof of concept” — a workable test unit on the way to becoming a prototype — in nanotechnology fields of electronics, biopharmaceuticals, and materials through work with academia.

That said, the goal is a product —Gammel is purposefully vague about describing exactly how it works — in two years that could be used to spin off a new company or be licensed to existing companies. While it will likely be more costly than a single antenna today, the point of RANTED is to have one antenna doing the work of many, so there would be an overall savings for equipment manufacturers in the long run.

Is two years enough time to make such a product from scratch? “It’s a two-year program,” says Gammel. “I’m confident we’ll have proof of concept in two years. The companies we’ve hooked up with here will ensure that the hand-off [to actual product] after proof of concept will be more seamless than it has historically been.”

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