Next-Gen Antenna will Revolutionize the Wireless World

by Matt Klassen on May 22, 2015

As the Internet of Things stands poised to dominate our lives in the coming years, researchers at the University of Manchester have found a way to radically redefine a key component in making our connected everything future a reality: the radio antenna.

While you undoubtedly think of metal wires in regards to the radio antenna, the next generation of wireless signal receiving technology is truly the stuff of science fiction, as said university researchers have found a way to create antennas out of graphene—the same material found in pencil lead—that are so small and malleable that they can be deployed in almost anything, from billboard advertisements to our clothes and almost everything in between.

Now granted there’s nothing overly interesting or sexy about a paradigm altering advance in radio antenna development, but this stands as one of those stories that could radically alter our existence in the not-so-distant future, ushering in the sort of interconnected, technologically dependent existence we currently only dream about.

As the Internet of Things continues to grow and as we advance unabated towards a truly connected everything existence it seems that Graphene will be at the front and centre of it all, the wonder element that scientists are now increasingly finding technological applications for.

You see, as radio communication spreads to an unfathomable myriad of small devices there is a growing need for inexpensive, malleable, and practically invisible antennas, as companies will want ways of incorporating their particular products into the IoT without incurring the cost of radical redevelopment. As CNET’s Stephen Shankland writes, “Graphene could be the material that gives a voice to myriad new computing devices.”

“Graphene is no longer just a scientific wonder. It will bring many new applications to our daily life very soon,” said Kostya S. Novoselov, the project’s coordinator and one of the University of Manchester Nobel Prize laureates who isolated Graphene. He and fellow Nobel laureate Andre Geim are co-authors of the paper, but the lead author is graduate student Xianjun Huang.

Briefly, Graphene is a sheet of carbon atoms linked into a lattice just one-atom thick, a useful material that is easily extracted off regular Graphite, the kind of carbon used in pencil lead. Researchers have been able to print off an antenna using Graphene-infused ink, subsequently manipulating the print to increase its conductivity.

However, Shankland notes, since its discovery more than a decade ago, “Graphene has been long on excitement and short on practical uses.” But it seems there is potential in transforming the radio antenna, which in turn will revolutionize the sorts of things that can receive radio signals. Remember the 2002 Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report, where smart billboards where able to beam target specific advertising to any passerby? It seems that’s the sort of future that is now well within our grasp, whether we actually want that future, well that’s another question entirely.

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