Smart antennas for the digital future

Overview

Soon the entire world will be connected to the Internet through satellites. Providing cars, airplanes and households with easy access to the online world, from any location, will require a new generation of smart antennas.

Publish Date

07 JUN 2020

Author

Kai Beckmann

Smart antennas for the digital future 
 
Soon the entire world will be connected to the Internet through satellites. Providing cars, airplanes and households with easy access to the online world, from any location, will require a new generation of smart antennas. With its liquid crystal technology, EMD Performance Materials is making an important contribution to the development of these antennas. 

If machines, vehicles and mobile telephones were unable to communicate with one another, smartphones and smart factories would not truly be “smart”, and our future would not include self-driving cars. Along with intelligent algorithms and powerful computers, connectivity is a crucial requirement for the digital transformation. 
 
Powerful and reliable network connections are essential for sending and receiving ever larger quantities of data. In recent years, smart antennas have become increasingly important in this context. Technology companies all over the world are working on using many small, low Earth orbit satellites to expand global Internet coverage. This will allow people even in remote areas to access the Internet. One of the best-known projects in this area is the Starlink system that Tesla founder Elon Musk is developing. 
 
To ensure optimal signal transmission, modern antennas must have a clear line of sight to the satellites orbiting the Earth. Traditional antennas accomplish this mechanically by means of a motor, which makes the technology cumbersome as well as expensive, owing to the need for regular maintenance. Smart antennas can help solve those problems. 
 
Smaller, faster, more reliable 
 
Smart antennas are essentially an array of many smaller antennas, which are connected using intelligent signal processing software. They are not oriented mechanically; instead, the transmitted signals can be electronically aimed directly at the satellite. Smart antennas can adapt to the signals received. The liquid crystal solutions of EMD Performance Materials make this possible. With smart antennas, the beams are electronically oriented by means of a thin layer of liquid crystals. 
 
The advantages of smart antennas: They are able to receive large quantities of data almost anywhere in the world, their signal quality is superior and they are better protected against hacking. Moreover, they do not need to be maintained, repaired or replaced as frequently as their mechanical counterparts, and their design is much flatter. Large satellite dishes are no longer needed. Smart antennas are relatively inexpensive to produce and resource-efficient. Because of their higher data speed and efficiency in transmitting signals, smart antennas also play an important role in the optimization of the 5G network. This makes them a key technology for the Internet of Things, smart cities or the future of mobility. 
 
Furthermore, the lean design of smart antennas allows for very flexible use, for example in vehicles. Important purchasing criteria – in addition to motor capacity, design and convenience – include a digital user environment and online functionality. Standard on today’s new cars are navigation devices, multimedia systems and Bluetooth interfaces for smartphones, and before long autonomous driving will be possible as well. Dead zones must therefore be a thing of the past. Thus smart antennas may soon be a standard vehicle feature.  

Internet for everyone 
 
Intelligent antennas containing our liquid crystals are making it possible for people even in the most remote corners of the world to access the Internet. Retrieving data from container ships on the high seas or from trucks traveling through isolated areas also requires the right satellite and antenna technology. This applies to the digital monitoring of power lines and pipelines, too, which often run through undeveloped areas. 
 
At Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, we believe that this technology has considerable potential to improve people’s lives. After all, the Internet provides people with access to education, business opportunities and social interaction. Furthermore, because liquid crystal antennas are exceptionally energy-efficient and inexpensive to produce, Internet access will become more affordable for people in poorer regions. We are convinced that technology is the key to greater prosperity for everyone, and to a more sustainable world. 

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