The enemy of wireless telecommunications everywhere is a poor signal. They say the enemy of my enemy is my friend, or metamaterials to be precise, which the US Air Force is counting on for the next generation of antennas…
We’ve all been there, wandering around, frantically waving our mobile phones above our heads, as if trying to snag a signal out of thin air.
We’re not alone, either. Our pain is shared by the US Air Force, who’re presently looking to attract a special class of mind to help in the design of “Applied Metamaterials for Antennas“. For the US Air Force, the benefits are a reduction in antenna size and an increase in efficiency.
The curious thing about metamaterials is their unnatural and unerring ability to warp and distort varying frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum.
For the knowledgeable sci-fi enthusiast who’re familiar with the unusual properties of metamaterials, they’ll be hoping for something similar to Cloaking Devices of Star Trek fame. Well, we’re some way off that kind of thing, but people are working on it:
“The most obvious application for cloaking devices would be for creating the ultimate camouflage; for such things as battlefield ordnance, aircraft, spy satellites et cetera. Not only would it be possible to obfuscate visible frequencies of light, but also infra red — better known as heat — and as mentioned earlier, radar too.”
Quite aside from the fantastical, the more immediate benefits of metamaterial research have very grounded and mundane commercial applications:
“The same goes for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other wireless devices. The future urban landscape might benefit when all TV aerials, satellite dishes and mobile phone masts are replaced with conformal antennas.”
In the context of our modern world; one of dwindling resources and an increased sensitivity and awareness of our energy efficiency, any improvement to those appliances and gadgets we digitize our lives with have a positive ripple effect outwards across the whole spectrum of electrical devices.
And by reducing the energy requirements while at the same time boosting signal strength have benefits that speak for themselves. Make no mistake, gadgets are a tower of power problems, which desperately needs addressing:
“UK consumers spend £12bn a year on electronics, much of which is less efficient than older technology, a study by the Energy Saving Trust found.
By 2020, the gadgets will account for about 45% of electricity used in UK households, the organisation projected.”
While these are figures for Britain, I’d hazard a guess at sticking a zero on the end of each number and doubling the odd percentile or two for the US.
I bought myself an Apple iPod Touch over the weekend, which has Wi-Fi connectivity. As a mobile device, it’s a dream to use, and use and use and keep on using.
For the consumer, we sit back, play with our new gadgets and watch the power meter swing round that bit faster. Meanwhile, we have an incremental yet measurably greater impact on our environment as more energy needs to be produced to fuel these things.
Here, we see how the military might of a nation and its needs to improve communications can and most probably will over time contribute to a profound change to those electronic items we so rely upon in our digitize daily lives…