Researcher at the Ohio State University focus on antenna integration into clothing using plastic film and metallic thread. The potential benefit of doing so is the increase of four times of the antenna range compared to a conventional antenna.
Currently the textile antenna research is targeted towards smart fabrics for the army enhancing the ‘communication reliability and mobility of the soldiers’ according to Chi-Chih Chen, research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State.
Embedding antennae into clothing is not a new concept but this particular research project adds a smart antenna twist to fabric antennae which are either printed or embroidered all over the clothing forming a antenna network which is controlled by a CPU. It is the same principle as the huge radio antennas that listen to space: instead of building one massive antenna, researcher build multiple smaller antenna and connect them to a network of antennas that represent a powerful, gigantic antenna.
Transferred to the human body means multiple antenna patches around the clothing form a much more powerful antenna when networked together because this antenna configuration will ensure under almost any situation at least one antenna element will always point into the signal direction.
What works for military purpose will have great value in other areas such as healthcare or monitoring of elderly people, staying connected during fitness activities to record workout or to give some extra boost to the iPhone antenna to eliminate call drop in otherwise radio silent side alleys.
The fabrication of the antenna elements look very simple, like printing of antenna pattern with conductive ink or using a embroidery machine as the research team has done for the prototype fabrication.
One dark spot has this smart, wearable antenna – the estimated cost right now is about U$ 200.- which naturally will limit the use for civilian application but there is a great likeliness these cost will come down considerably once volume production will start.
Read more about this at OSU Research News