Electromagnets enable reconfigurable antenna for 6G networks
Researchers at the Penn State College of Engineering in the US have developed a low power reconfigurable patch antenna that can be used for the wide range of frequency bands for next generation 5G and 6G wireless networks.
The team combined electromagnets with the same mechanical engineering concept behind binder clips or a bow and arrow. When applied to a reconfigurable antenna, the arms of the bend in a predictable way, which in turn changes its operating frequencies without the use of hinges or bearings.
The 3D printed proof-of-concept reconfigurable compliant mechanism was published in Nature Communications.
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“Compliant mechanisms are engineering designs that incorporate elements of the materials themselves to create motion when force is applied, instead of traditional rigid body mechanisms that require hinges for motion,” said Galestan Mackertich-Sengerdy, who is both a doctoral student and a full-time researcher in the college’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS).
“Compliant mechanism-enabled objects are engineered to bend repeatedly in a certain direction and to withstand harsh environments.”
“Just like a chameleon triggers the tiny bumps on its skin to move, which changes its color, a reconfigurable antenna can change its frequency from low to high and back, just by configuring its mechanical properties, enabled by the compliant mechanism,” said co-author Sawyer Campbell, associate research professor in EECS.
The compliant mechanism-enabled designs supersede existing origami designs.
“Origami antenna designs are known for their compact folding and storage capabilities that can then be deployed later on in the application,” said Mackertich-Sengerdy. “But once these origami folded structures are deployed, they usually need a complex stiffening structure, so that they don’t warp or bend. If not carefully designed, these types of devices would suffer environmental and operational lifetime limitations in the field.”
The team designed a circular, iris-shaped patch antenna prototype using commercial electromagnetic simulation software. They then 3D printed it and tested it for fatigue failures as well as frequency and radiation pattern fidelity in Penn State’s anechoic chamber, a room insulated with electromagnetic wave-absorbing material that prevents signals from interfering with antenna testing.
The prototype is designed to target a specific frequency for demonstration and is only slightly larger than a human palm, but the technology can be scaled to the integrated circuit level for higher frequencies or increased in size for lower frequency applications, according to researchers.
“The paper introduces compliant mechanisms as a new design paradigm for the entire electromagnetics community, and we anticipate it growing,” said co-author Douglas Werner, John L. and Genevieve H. McCain Chair Professor of EECS. “It could be the branching off point for an entirely new field of designs with exciting applications we haven’t dreamed of yet.”