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USU research into morphing antennas could mean better wireless service

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LOGAN, Utah – Researchers at Utah State University are working on a project to improve cell phone service and data streaming using a new type of antenna that can change its properties.

Bedri Cetiner is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Utah State University, and he said they are developing smarter antenna technologies that offer improvements over the traditional set ups.

“The difference here is we have an antenna technology that enables a single antenna to dynamically change its properties,” Cetiner said. “Mainly, there are three properties: frequency, polarization, and radiation pattern."

The idea is that if a signal changes then the antenna can adapt itself to work best with the wireless channel.

"Chameleon is a reptile of which--skin is smart, so the chameleon is capable of dynamically changing the color of its skin in response to the changes in the environment that is living [in],” Cetiner explained. “You can think of our antenna same way. So, when changes happen in the channel, we respond to those changes by adapting our, skin color, let's say."

Cetiner said a chameleon adapts as a matter of survival, but these antennas would adapt for better performance.

He said: “The reptile of course does this to survive, right? But here, we do it in order for you to not lose your signal, to get better data rate, higher capacity, all [of] those."

A circuit board allows the antenna to morph its dimensions to better function with the varying signals. Tim Brenner is an undergraduate researcher on the project, and he said they’ve taken care to create a quality system.

“This is a cover that I 3D printed,” he said. “I modeled it in a CAD software, made sure all the dimensions were correct and then had it 3D printed. I did a little prototype thing, and cleaning up the thing to get the fit on there, but this now protects it from water, rain and that kind of stuff."

The goal of the research is to be able to maintain optimum performance at all times on all wireless devices. The project has attracted the attention of the U.S. Air Force, which recently gave USU a grant for $1 million to expand the research.