Fast, reliable internet is a key driver for development and progress. We spoke to Dieter Schroth, our Head of One Display Solutions & Smart Antennas, to discover how our intelligent licriOn™ liquid crystal antennas are empowering people living in the world’s most remote regions...
Dieter, what are smart antennas and what advantages do they have over conventional ones?
High data-rate radio connections rely on extremely high frequencies, which often require a line-of-sight connection (where transmitting and receiving stations are in view of each other). This can be achieved using motors and complicated mechanics, or – more elegantly – with Smart Antennas, which electronically steer the antenna beam in the desired direction. Also known as phased array antennas, these devices have a flat-form factor. Using liquid crystal technology, the antenna array can be driven in an energy-efficient fashion and mass produced in the same way liquid crystal displays are manufactured – making access to antenna terminals more affordable.
Displays and now antennas... what role do you think curiosity plays in the discovery of new uses for liquid crystal technology?
Liquid crystals are fascinating materials, which change the functions of an electronic or optical component when a tiny voltage is applied. The curiosity of our researchers – and their partners at universities – is what drives them to explore new applications for these versatile materials. To find out what else can be done, and then to actually make it happen not only in the lab but also in a commercial application, is extremely satisfying for all stakeholders, not just R&D teams.
The use of liquid crystals for display technology was – although game changing – a stroke of serendipity. Is this also true of smart antennas?
To a certain extent, yes. We’d been working, in collaboration with academic partners, on this project for quite some time before its full potential became clear. We’re now in a very fortunate situation, in which we have a technology at hand that can handle ever-increasing data and data communication. Luck is always a factor in a successful business. However, it also requires people who have a vision, and the perseverance to pursue it. Smart Antenna technology is no exception. It’s early days, but we’re quietly confident of its potential.
Which aspect of smart antenna technology excites you most, any why?
There are so many aspects of low-earth orbit satellite technology I find fascinating. But, the science and technology required to make a Smart Antenna device work is captivating, and almost magical! But, the most exciting aspect is the technology’s potential to solve important societal issues. It could connect people who would otherwise have no opportunity to participate in the global economy – bringing knowledge, prosperity, and health to more people across the globe.
Experts predict that 125bn devices will connect to the internet by 2030. Do you think this can be done sustainably?
I honestly don’t know! As the energy consumption of electronic devices grows at breakneck speed, we don’t really have a choice – we have to act. Our Electronics business is focused on contributing to the development of low-energy technologies wherever possible – Smart Antennas require far less power than other electronically steered antennas. However, an increase in the number of devices will be tough to offset.
Liquid crystals have already transformed many aspects of our daily lives. We’re curious, where will the technology take us next?
Although Liquid Crystals are well established in the display business, the technology itself is constantly improving – enabling brighter and more vivid display experiences. Beyond displays, there are many exciting liquid crystal projects and applications, like smart windows, electronically adaptable lenses, and holographic augmented reality devices. I’m sure it won’t be long before our curious minds come up with a whole host of new and exciting ideas!
Curious about tunable microwave filters, beam-steering antenna systems, and millimeter-wave communications? Access the free research paper from Dieter and his colleagues Michael Wittek and Carsten Fritzsch.
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