Drexel Antenna Research Helping to Boost the Performance of Commercial Wireless Networking Technology By Britt Faulstick, News Officer
Kapil Dandekar, PhD found inspiration for a new kind of antenna in an unlikely place. It was the liquid metal alloy in Terminator 2 that gave him the idea for an antenna that could change its electronic shape to adjust the way it picked up signals: what if, he thought, an antenna could change itself the way the metal did?
The ‘change’ in the antenna he developed can be compared to rabbit ear antennas, which utilize mechanical reconfiguration to better pick up signals. This new antenna works in much the same way except utilizing electronic configuration. This is done by feeding the antenna different signals which changes the directions in which it transmits and receives.
The immediate uses of the antenna are commercial and involve increasing the data rate. Future uses include mitigating the effects of interference and increasing the security of data networks. There is work being done to minimize the size of the antennas; someday, they could be included in tablets, cell phones, and other mobile devices.
Wireless antenna technology that originated in Drexel University’s College of Engineering is now available in the newest family of ZyXEL enterprise-grade wireless access points. The company, which is a global leader in producing broadband networking solutions, has adopted a “smart antenna” product designed by Adant Technologies Inc., based on the research from the Drexel Wireless Systems Lab.
The ZyXELWAC6500 Series incorporates Adant’s Star-v1 antenna system and “Beam Shaping” technology that, according to ZyXEL “solves the coverage problem by adaptively adjusting antenna patterns to fit a variety of wireless environments.” That system is the progeny of electrically reconfigurable antenna technology and algorithms that were developed in the lab of Kapil Dandekar, PhD, a professor in the College of Engineering, over the course of a decade with support from the National Science Foundation.
Back then, the technology was part of his research on reconfigurable antenna geometries and the Drexel Wireless Systems Lab was one of the pioneers in adapting it for multiple input multiple output (MIMO) communications –the standard wireless radio communication method employed in home routers, and for 3G and 4G mobile phone networks.
Working with Michele D’Amico a researcher at Politecnico di Milano, an Italian technological institute, Drexel researchers developed antenna designs capable of adjusting their radiation characteristics in a very compact form factor, enabling potential applications in local area networking and cellular applications. This revolutionary discovery prompted Daniele Piazza, the lead researcher and a Drexel graduate who earned his doctorate in Dandekar’s lab, along with Dandekar and D’Amico, to create a company to bring the technology to market. That company is Adant Technologies, Inc.
Adant Technologies has several connections to Drexel University, most notably Piazza, who completed his doctoral work at Drexel, is the vice president and COO, and Dandekar serves on the Scientific Advisory Board. Their technology has been enhanced over the years and rebranded as Adant’s “Beam Shaping” antenna technology. It delivers reliable connections on a much broader level by using a new set of algorithms to reconfigure itself within milliseconds of seeking out a desirable bandwidth on which to operate.
“The industry quickly realized how antenna performance and wireless channel optimization were crucial to deliver on industry’s expectations,” said Adant President and CEO Dave Tarpley. “This is particularly true in hard to reach locations, and with interference that is typical of crowded 5GHz wireless networks with a small number of wider channels.”
The WAC6500 Series, which features the beam shaping technology, is now commercially available as part of a wireless system marketed to businesses large and small, as well as individuals setting up home networks.
“ZyXEL’s Smart Antenna technology, which incorporates the Adant Star-v1 antenna system, is a groundbreaking feature of the WAC6500 Series of wireless access points that solves the coverage problem by adaptively adjusting antenna patterns to fit a variety of wireless environments,” said ZyXEL Assistant Vice President Crowley Wu.
During the nearly 10-year process of discovery to market, Dandekar worked closely with the Office of Technology Commercialization of Drexel Ventures to protect and market the intellectual property his lab was developing. Drexel Ventures has been aggressively seeking licensing opportunities for wireless technology developed in the Drexel Wireless Systems Lab and has been a strong supporter of the launch and growth of Adant Technologies.
“Watching this research move from the lab through the commercialization process has absolutely changed the way I approach my research,” Dandekar said. “The process of trying to commercialize technology allows you to observe firsthand the practical constraints that are present in everyday devices. My lab is focused on designing and prototyping new wireless technologies, but this experience has definitely helped me in prioritizing research activities to pursue based on commercial viability of different technical approaches.”