Universities transform wearable radio communications

14th November 2013
Nat Bowers

Working alongside several industry partners, researchers at Nottingham Trent University and Loughborough University have developed a prototype garment incorporating an embroidered antenna. Ideally suited for search and rescue applications, the newly designed antenna is fully flexible, lightweight and water resistant.

Aiming to transform how wearable radio communications are sent and received, this project has led to the development of the technology to design an efficient antenna that can be applied directly onto clothing using a mass production process.

Antennas use electromagnetic waves to send or receive incoming or outgoing radio communications. Traditional monopole antennas are ordinarily rod shaped and made of metal.

Professor Tilak Dias, leader of Advanced Textiles Research Group, comments: “Monopole antennas are bulky, heavy and prone to breaking. They also attract unwanted attention for the military during covert and secure operations. This new design solves such problems by being small, lightweight, flexible and weather resistant.”

Optimising and altering conventional embroidery machinery to process the non-traditional yarns (which incorporate the conductive threads), researchers from the Advanced Textiles Research Group, at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Art & Design, have been able to fabricate and modify the antenna.

Meanwhile, the Loughborough University-based team have focused on optimising the performance of the antenna and identifying the most effective materials to be used in the embroidery process.

“Producing an effective flexible, fabric antenna presented many technical challenges but working with our colleagues at Nottingham Trent University over the last three years we have been able to develop a working prototype which could be adapted for a multitude of applications,” comments Professor Yiannis Vardaxoglou, head of the Wireless Communications Research Group at Loughborough University.

Similar in size and scale to a brand logo or emblem that is sewn or embroidered onto clothing, the embroidered antenna can be applied to any garment. The application process is quicker and cheaper than current methods used to create traditional antennas.

Loughborough University’s anechoic microwave measurement chambers were used to conduct testing of the antenna’s capabilities, such as working at MegaHertz frequencies.

The consortium has been able to produce the antenna with grant funding of £465,249 from EPSRC’s Innovative electronics Manufacturing Research Centre.

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