Can you introduce us to the people behind the Antenna Array project?
The project work was in collaboration with a number of academics and researchers from the Institute of Sensors, Signals and Systems at Heriot-Watt University, as well as University Malaysia Perlis, which included: Symon Podilchak, Rahil Joshi, Constantin Constantinides, Jack Ping Soh, and George Goussetis. The project consortium was also composed of other academics from the School of Textiles and Engineering, as well as industrial experts from JD Wilkie and Leonardo UK. Some brief bios from this team are below:
Dr Symon Podilchak was born in Toronto, Canada, and has a B.A.Sc., M.A.Sc. and a Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering. From 2013 to 2015, Symon was an Assistant Professor at Queen's in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as well as a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Research Fellow. He is also a registered Professional Engineer in the Province of Ontario and the founding chairman for the IEEE AP-S/MTT-S joint chapter in Kingston. Symon joined Heriot-Watt University as an Assistant Professor in 2015 and became an Associate Professor in 2017. Symon's industrial experience includes modelling the radar cross-section of military vessels for high frequency surface-wave radar, professional software design and implementation for measurements in anechoic chambers, design of compact multiple-input multiple-output antennas for wideband military communications and automotive radar, and the research and development of highly compact circularly polarized antennas for microsatellites.
Dr Constantin Constantinides received his Ph.D. in signal and image processing from the Telecom Paris Tech School of engineering, Paris, France in 2012 and his Master’s degree from the ESME-SUDRIA School of engineering, Ivry-sur-Seine, France in 2008. From 2015 to 2016 he was a research associate at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, and from 2012 to 2014, he was a research associate at the ESME-SUDRIA school of engineering. His work in antennas involves original contributions including beam-steering leaky-wave antennas, textile antennas for search and rescue, miniaturized antennas for Nano satellites and retro-directive arrays. Currently he is an RF Engineer at PocketCube Shop in Glasgow, Scotland.
Rahil Joshi received a B.E. degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering in 2014 from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani-Dubai Campus. In 2015, he received the M.Sc. degree in Communication and Signal Processing Engineering from Newcastle University, UK. He is currently working towards his Ph.D. degree at the Institute of Sensors, Signals and Systems from Heriot-Watt University. His research interest includes compact and wearable antennas, wireless power transfer in the near- and far-field, and software defined radios for wireless communications. Rahil has worked on projects such as GPS signal acquisition in hostile environments, sensor networks, and the implementation of wireless receiver algorithms. He received the Associate Fellow designation from the Higher Education Academy, UK in 2017, and in October 2017, he received an award for his research work during his PhD from Heriot-Watt University.
Ping Jack Soh received his B.Eng. and M.Eng. degrees in Electrical Engineering from University Teknologi Malaysia in 2002 and 2006, respectively, and a Ph.D. degree in EE from KU Leuven, Belgium in 2013. He is currently a Senior Lecturer at the School of Computer and Communication Engineering at the University Malaysia Perlis, and the Deputy Dean of the University's Research Management and Innovation Centre. During his Ph.D. he was involved in antenna design and characterisation for AGFA Healthcare, Mortsel, Belgium, which resulted in a filed European patent. His research interests include the design, development and modelling of flexible, textile, conformal and planar antennas, on-body communications, metamaterials and microwave measurements. Dr Soh was the recipient of the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society (AP-S) Doctoral Research Award in 2012, the IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society (MTT-S) Graduate Fellowship for Medical Applications in 2013 and the International Union of Radio Science (URSI) Young Scientist Award in 2015. He was also the second-place winner of the IEEE Presidents' Change the World Competition and IEEE MTT-S Video Competition, both in 2013. Two of his authored journals were also awarded the CST University Publication Award in 2011 and 2012. He has been a Senior Member of the IEEE since 2015 and serves as a member of the IEEE MTT-S Education Committee since 2014.
Can you explain the project you have received Challenge Funding for?
This project work was based on the concept of wearable antennas and connecting electronics, for smart technical textiles and clothing. These devices are wearable Radio Frequency (RF) components that are specifically designed to function while being worn by a human being. Some of the commercially available products in the market today are Google glass, GoPro cameras, smartwatches, etc.
Other applications of smart clothing, as investigated in this Challenge Funding Project, include search and rescue operations and emergency communications. In these applications, these radiating and communicating devices can be fully integrated into clothing and can potentially become wet due to water exposure. For example, when a member of the coast guard jumps out of a helicopter during a rescue operation, the communicating RF devices that are worn by that rescuer are still needed to operate. It should be made clear that this is very challenging RF design work since the wetness clothing factor, can completely change the operating performance of the radiating antennas and electronics.
In this project two wearable antennas were designed and tested for military search and rescue operations and emergency communications. The idea was to integrate these antennas into the clothes or the jacket of a soldier, a reporter, and/or medic. Communicating and tracking of such personnel in the field requires an antenna working at UHF (the Ultra High Frequency band) for satellite connectivity, and as such an antenna for this operating frequency was designed, fabricated, and experimentally verified. The other antenna designed, for data exchange between individual personnel requires antennas working at the ISM (industrial, scientific and medical radio) band which is about 2.4 GHz. This frequency is similar to Wi-Fi frequencies and can be applied to this application as well. These wearable antennas were designed to be compact, low profile, low cost, light weight, flexible and resilient to this harsh operating environment. These antennas were also tested in these conditions and were proven to operate as per design. It should be mentioned that this is extremely difficult antenna and RF engineering work due to the size constraints and flexibility/durability requirements. Additionally, a flexible textile-based RF cable for feeding such antennas with communicating signals was also developed. This RF textile-based cable could be placed within a T-shirt or a ballistics jacket for RF connectivity. It was also tested and shown to work in these same harsh operating environments for search and rescue operations and emergency communications.
Illustration of the wearable antennas and the feed system for integration into a ballistics jacket.
Why do you believe the textiles industry needs the project you are working on?
Over past two decades body centric wireless communication has become a major part of human day to day life. Also, the utilisation of wearable textiles devices for communication applications is on the gradual rise due to recent miniaturisation of wireless RF components and other mobile devices. The textile industry is already planning to work on smart clothing and this project proves that an idea to implement RF devices in clothing is possible.
What have you managed to achieve progress on since you were awarded the Challenge Fund?
We have developed two antenna prototypes which are operational at 400 MHz and 2.45 GHz respectively. These antennas were developed for military search and rescue operations. Robust tests such as bending, twisting and temperature tests were performed to check the durability of these antennas. Beyond the end of the Challenge Fund, we have further enhanced the original textile-based transmission line to use a different material, and this new configuration had reduced losses when compared to the original prototypes. Now research work continues, and Rahil Joshi is completing a PhD on this topic. Additional developments are underway which continue from the original Challenge Funding project work.
What impact has your project had, to date?
It can be argued that the generation of new ideas and technologies can contribute into economic growth. The novel idea to embed antennas and transmission lines into clothing will contribute towards the expertise of the textile industry in Scotland as well as other industries such as defence, clothing, and medical. This is because industrial members of the project consortium are from Scotland. J&D Wilkie and Leonardo, respectively are textile and defence companies. This may give rise to new start-up companies. Also, the protection of the generated IP is of interest. For example, J&D Wilkie are considering patenting the design for the textile-based transmission line. In addition, the research work completed thus far, trains researchers to be experts in this area and thus they can further contribute to the development of new ideas and textile RF devices and whilst further interacting with these industrial partners which are based in Scotland.
What does the future look like for your project? What are the next steps?
For the future, the following are planned:
- Publishing the new textile-based RF work in IEEE journals.
- Patent the textile-based transmission line concept.
- Further optimization of these antennas can still be performed in terms of making the structures more compact.
- Extend the new textile-based transmission line to other RF applications.
- Seek additional funding to support and continue the project.
Symon Podilchak interviewed by Kimberley White