Innovative car antenna can handle large data volumes

Innovative car antenna can handle large data volumes

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

Mobile phones, satellite navigation, WiFi, door openers – modern cars use a plethora of wireless services. The antennas for transmitting and receiving are usually mounted in the “shark fin” on the roof. But because the number of mobile communication systems and the flood of data to be handled is constantly growing, more complex antenna systems are needed, and space in the slim modules is becoming scarce. The trend towards autonomous driving further exacerbates this problem. Engineers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now designed a reconfigurable antenna system that can handle large amounts of data from different services simultaneously.

“If you want to transmit large amounts of data to as many users as possible at the same time without errors, you face different challenges depending on the environment,” explains Thomas Zwick, head of the Institute for High Frequency Technology and Electronics (IHE) at KIT. For example, anyone who wants to make a phone call in a busy place like an airport is typically facing a capacity problem since many people want to communicate here at the same time. Those who want to make a phone call in the Alps, on the other hand, often have no network coverage.

Since the data services of cars are often safety-relevant, they must function reliably everywhere. According to Zwick, the decisive factor here is the radiation characteristic. Today, car antennas are used whose electromagnetic field spreads evenly in all directions. “At first glance it seems to be the right choice, as signals from all directions can be received while the car is moving,” says Jerzy Kowalewski of the IHE. The problem: In urban areas, for example, signals can be deflected from house walls. The result: incomplete transmission until complete data loss. In addition, there are the capacity and coverage problems mentioned. MIMO technology (Multiple Input Multiple Output), which is part of the new LTE mobile communications standard, is intended to solve this problem. However, this requires several antennas with transmitters and receivers, which makes the systems more complex, larger and more expensive.

At the IHE, the researchers have therefore experimented with reconfigurable antenna systems in order to reduce the number of transmitters and receivers required to a minimum. Their electromagnetic fields are not static, but can change their radiation characteristics. “Individual segments of the antenna can be switched on or off alternately by means of electronic switches. This changes the directional characteristics of the respective transmitters and receivers. The parallel transmission of data over different propagation paths increases the capacity of the system and the data rate.

The broadband antenna can be integrated
into a vehicle’s body

As a result, the KIT system requires fewer transmitters and receivers. This not only saves costs, but also space. Together with scientists from the Vienna University of Technology, the Karlsruhe researchers have also investigated whether their antennas can be lowered into the roof in the future in a space-saving and aerodynamic manner. Antenna cavities integrated into the body offer ten times higher data volumes than the conventional shark fin housings and can be completely concealed under the roof line.

The Karlsruhe researchers presented their results at the International Workshop on Antenna Technology.


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