The flat panels offer a lightweight, compact, low-profile alternative to traditional antennas. These flat panel reflectors may be better suited for modern communications. (Photo from Los Alamos National Laboratory)


You've most likely seen the standard antennas that adorn various rooftops and cell towers, 3D dishes, and microwave horns used for modern communication. This traditional design could soon be upgraded thanks to engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The team recently developed flat panel technology for antennas that is compact, versatile, and better adapted for today's communication technology.


"Our new reflectors offer lightweight, low-profile alternatives to conventional antennas. This is a potential boon for satellites, where minimizing weight and size is crucial," said Abul Azad, of the MPA-CINT group at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "The panels could be easily incorporated onto surfaces of buildings or terrestrial vehicles as well."


The team made the reflectors with an array of finely structured electronic components placed on a planar surface. When signals are sent to the components, the 2D reflector can act in similar ways to a 3D antenna and can even perform things no conventional antenna could do in some cases. This effectively turns it into a "metasurface," a device that can be altered electronically to act in different ways without modifying its physical shape.


The flat panels were tested with different electrical signals applied to the reflectors. By doing this, researchers learned they could control both the frequency and the direction of light reflected off of it by modulating the metasurface. The nonreciprocal response of the reflector will be able to prevent antennas from picking up echoes from other broadcasts, as well as protect its circuitry from harmful incoming signals.


Researchers are excited about the new opportunities this reflector can open. They believe it can prove useful in various applications, including adaptive optics that can account for distortion that disrupts signals. They're currently talking about developing novel antenna designs as well as one-way wireless transmissions. Combined with the proper technology, researchers hope this could lead to customized focusing and beam steering, which is unthinkable for conventional antennas. Miniature versions could even improve chip-based circuitry to reduce inadvertent signals, a challenge for chip designers. 


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