Technology is moving at an accelerated pace. Processor development yields novel architectures, greater power, and faster speeds; and, all the while, technology companies and device manufacturers are vying to be the one with the “next best thing.” I have been in the mil/aero industry more than a decade and have always been on top of the latest and greatest; it’s a geek’s hobby after all. However, there is one area of new tech that is just now beginning to come under scrutiny for what some call an inherent lack of innovation to advance the state of the art: antennas.
Antennas were first built and experimented with in the late 1800s by Heinrich Hertz to help prove the existence of electromagnetic waves first postulated in a theory by James Clerk Maxwell. The experiment was quite advanced for the time. Hertz place an emitter dipole in the focal point of a parabolic antenna and later published his findings in 1889. The real antenna or aerial development began in 1895 by the famous Guglielmo Marconi; he placed a wire up the length of a 2.5 meter tent pole that was used for both receiving and transmitting. Interestingly enough, the Italian word for tent pole is l’antenna central so the pole that carried the wire was simply called l’antenna by Marconi. This term popularized by Marconi simply means “pole” in Italian; it is where we derived the current universal word for the device, antenna.
In recent press, electronics mega-giant Apple Inc. has come under fire for an apparent lack of design, testing, and innovation in regards to the antenna design in the new Apple iPhone 4. Consumers are complaining that when the phone is held in a certain manner, performance in transmission and reception are crippled, making the iPhone essentially a useless piece of quite expensive portable electronics. Some have gone so far as to file civil lawsuits against Apple saying the phone should never have been released with such an obvious flaw.
Can you imagine the implications if such an approach was taken with todays modern military hardware? The military’s design for the future of combat is largely based upon the network-centric battlefield with secure wireless mesh networks being a huge part of this push. The military is having a hard time keeping up with the bleeding-edge of technology and is relying more and more on commercial of the shelf (COTS) hardware. Is it possible that a COTS product be fielded such as a mobile handheld and it fails because a soldier holds it incorrectly? I think it is entirely possible even with stringent mil-standard testing required for all military hardware.
So what is the next generation of antennas going to look like? As I see it, the afterthought of a trace in a circuit board or a wire just isn’t cutting it. Modern software can simulate next to anything and why should antenna simulation be left out? This geek thinks it may be time for a bit more innovation and ingenuity with regards to antenna technologies that have been around for more than a century.