Inspired by recent scientific breakthroughs in the area of transformation optics (TO) and metamaterials, QMUL in collaboration with its partners and UK industries have demonstrated several novel antenna solutions which potentially offer new composite flat lens antenna, surface wave and metasurface devices that could be embedded into the skin of vehicles without compromising aerodynamic performance, representing a major leap forward for future technologies related to the Internet of Things (IoT), CubeSat and Space Communications. The potential of the underlying design approaches have much wider applicability in arguably all technical challenges as addressed above. For example, we extended the TO technique to design novel beam steerable antennas . Instead of moving or tilting the feed/reflector, we employ an alternative way to manipulate the reflected emission by varying the permittivity of dielectrics derived from TO. This method has the merits of maintaining a flat profile, being capable of beam-steering and frequent agility. Combining with appropriate feed designs, the system can be effectively be used as either a single radiator or an array fulfilling massive MIMO functions. In a broad sense, dielectric substrates with spatially varying permittivity and/or permeability can be regarded as a “magic black
box”, whose properties are programmable according to required functional requirements. In ANIMATE, we refer to this magic black box as “software defined materials”, since they demonstrate far-reaching capabilities well beyond conventional antennas and arguably in all devices and systems that exploit electromagnetic spectra.
To enable this step change, a suite of novel advanced materials must be studied and developed, especially, active materials and structures with low loss, high tunability but low DC power dissipation are desirable. In addition, a robust biasing network is needed so that material building blocks can be individually controlled. In spite of the longstanding quest and intensive research over the years, this subject area still remains insufficiently explored. With ongoing advances in modelling and manufacturing tools, it is now possible to revisit some fundamental limits imposed on conventional materials and antenna designs. The vision of ANIMATE is therefore to unlock contributions and expertise from multiple disciplines, to develop a core programme of research on software defined materials, which will enable dynamic control of electromagnetic waves for applications in sensing, communications and computation.
The ultimate objective of ANIMATE is to remove the traditional boundary between the designs of antennas and RF/microwave electronics as well as materials and devices, so that a generic material platform can be developed that is programmable and flexible for multi-functional applications integrating communication, sensing and computation.
Specifically, in this project, we aim to:
- Establish a holistic approach of software-defined materials for communication, sensing and computation, by building novel integrated and adaptive antenna technologies.
- Integrate wireless sensor networks into the design of computer interface and control units for tunable materials to demonstrate and validate the wholly new concept of “networked materials” at subwavelength scales.
- Exploit challenging applications of proposed antenna and material technologies with our core industrial partners at all stages of development: prototyping, manufacturing, toolbox validation, platform integration and testing.
- Research novel active and tunable materials and investigate fundamental limits of relevant materials to industrial challenges.
- Develop simulation tools that span from materials, device and process modeling with intricate complexities that open up the design domain significantly and enable the production of optimal structures with improved performance.