Multi-functional metamaterials and antennas for RF/Microwave communication and sensing devices

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Electronic, Electrical and Computer Eng


Wireless connectivity is becoming increasingly important in modern society with a forecast of several hundreds of millions of connected devices in the UK alone by 2022, carrying out more than a billion daily data transactions. A large part of these connections will be machine-to-machine (M2M) communications through the rapidly increasing Internet of Things (IoT) that will connect a large number of sensing devices for a wide range of applications. Depending on the application, these wireless connections will span a large area of the radio frequency (RF) and microwave spectrum, from low UHF to mm-wave bands. Compact wireless devices and sensors for IoT with enhanced capabilities and multiple functionalities are required in order to meet the demands of the envisaged systems.

The development of new communication and sensing systems for aircrafts (including unmanned air vehicles - UAVs) and automotive vehicles is also becoming crucial for the successful deployment of the next generations of these platforms, such as autonomous air vehicles and driverless cars. Military and civilian aircrafts as well as automotive vehicles are required to cope with an increasing demand for radio frequency communication and sensing capability. With the current trend of increasing wireless connectivity functionalities both in air/automotive vehicles and in compact IoT devices, the size and number of antennas may end up defining the overall size, cost and/or power requirements (e.g. battery life in the case of IoT sensors) of the system.

A promising solution to the challenges outlined above is the developing science of RF/microwave metamaterials. Metamaterials and metasurfaces are artificial structures capable of achieving electromagnetic properties and behaviours that are not available from natural materials. This proposal aims to develop new paradigms of multi-functional and tunable metamaterials that will enable the development of novel multi-functional antennas for the two major applications sectors mentioned above, namely IoT wireless devices and autonomous air/automotive vehicles.

The outcomes of this work would place the UK at the centre of developments in this transformative area. Importantly, this proposal brings together a leading academic research group with key industrial partners who will help to shape the programme and shorten the lag between fundamental research and product development thus further increasing impact generation.

Planned Impact

The research that we propose here addresses applications that are at the heart of everyday life. These include nearly all types of wirelessly connected devices, such as mobile phones or different types of sensors that are part of the Internet of Things, automotive and air vehicles, which increasingly require more wireless connectivity functionalities, and finally the envisaged for the near future driverless cars, autonomous drones and UAVs. Therefore, the ultimate beneficiaries of this research will be the vast majority of the general public that, through these new applications, will experience a dramatically improved quality of services in everyday life. This is well aligned with the EPSRC vision of a connected nation. These impacts are to be expected when the next generations of IoT enabled wireless devices and autonomous vehicles come to market, currently envisaged to be soon after 2020. The impacts will continue to increase as the technology and standards evolve.

The research will also directly benefit numerous telecommunications components manufacturers, including Smart Antenna Technologies/SAT (project partner), and high frequency electronics manufacturers, such as Teratech (project partner). The manufacturers will benefit from techniques and IP generated through the project to obtain a competitive edge over their rivals through products with market leading performance, e.g. advanced multi-functional and compact antennas. This represents an enormous opportunity for the UK to increase its export market in the near future. There is also the potential to create new spin-out companies to exploit know-how and IP in specific technology areas.

Advances in wireless communication and radar systems for aerospace and automotive applications, including autonomous vehicles (civilian and military) will be of direct benefit to a number of UK companies such as BAE Systems (a partner in this project) and Jaguar Land Rover (a long term collaborator of UoB). In recent years the area of automotive radar has seen rapid growth due to applications in driverless cars and collision avoidance systems. Advances in millimetre-wave antenna technology are vital to make this happen. The technology will also be of considerable value to satellite systems manufacturers, with satellites predicted to become a key technology within future generations of communications networks.
Finally, the technology developed in this project, particularly at the higher end of the millimetre-wave bands, will also have impacts across other technology areas, including: wireless inter/intra-chip signal distribution, high resolution security imaging, standoff explosive detection, as well as imaging systems for non-destructive testing, and medical applications.


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Description A new type of multifunctional antennas and so called "metasurfaces" has been developed. These are highly-directive antennas that can be tuned to performed multiple functions, i.e. radiate at different frequencies, radiate different polarisation and steer the beam at different directions. Such agility is important in modern mobile and satellite communication systems.
Exploitation Route Patent application is ongoing. The IP can be used to develop products with the multifunctionality capabilities that has been demonstrated in this project.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

Description A patent application has been submitted. There are ongoing plans to exploit the IP. This will be updated in the future.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)
Impact Types Economic