Wearable antennas could improve battlefield communications

Wearable antennas could improve battlefield communications
Ohio State University researchers have developed clothing that can act as an antenna to boost radio signals on the battlefield by up to four times compared to current technologies.

Created using plastic film and metallic thread, the researchers' hands free design is optimised to equip soldiers with better and less intrusive wireless technology and improve communications reliability.

The prototype antenna was created by etching thin layers of brass on a commercially available plastic film called FR-4, which is said to be light and flexible, and can be sewn onto fabric. The researchers attached the antenna into a vest at four locations and placed a 1in thick computer controller on a belt.

In laboratory tests, the experimental antenna system provided significantly greater signal strength compared to a conventional military 'whip' antenna, enabling a range of communications four times larger. According to the team, the device could send and receive signals in all directions, even through walls and inside buildings.

Key to the technology, say the researchers, was the development of network communications coding to coordinate the signals among the antennas. They are now partnering with an antenna design company to commercialise the technology and are looking at ways of printing the antennas directly onto clothing.

"Imagine a vest or shirt, or even a fancy ball gown made with this technology," said Chi Chih Chen, a research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State. "The elderly or disabled could also use the technology to let them communicate in case of emergency, without the stigma they might feel in wearing a more visible assistive device."

Author
Laura Hopperton

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