(Photos by Al Zanyk, courtesy of Ohio State University)
When was the last time you saw a cell phone with big external antenna? Not in almost 10 years, most likely. Cell phones today have the antenna inside its case, and are just a metal printed on a thin-film, flexible substrate tuned to the particular frequency. Ohio State University has taken this type of antenna technology to another place, clothing.
What makes this system different than cell phone tech, comes from one of Chen's team, doctoral student Gil-Young Lee. Lee developed a system to prioritize antennas based on which has the best signal strength. The idea is to sidestep the human body, or other obstructions, to weaken the signal of the base device. The controller was housed on a belt of the user in a small, credit card sized, but one inch thick metal box. By coordinating the signals within the test vest the team was able to provide a signal strength four times greater than the standard military "whip" antenna.
This is not like the signal booster stickers for cell phones. The antenna is directly coupled to the device being tested, in this case, military radio equipment.
The first use of this tech will come in military and emergency personal communications systems. Unless wireless coupling of antennas gets a bit more research, our future cell phones will not come with an antenna shirt of any kind.