Scientists have developed an antenna technology that they claim could be a game changer for the next generation of wearables.
The breakthrough is courtesy of researchers from Drexel's College of Engineering, who have created an antenna that seamlessly integrates connection technology into shape-shifting and flexible objects via invisibly-thin "sprayable" antennas.
This, they claim, means installing an antenna could be as easy as applying some bug spray.
The antenna tech is made from a type of two-dimensional, metallic material called MXene, that perform as well as those being used in mobile devices, wireless routers and portable transducers.
The researchers said that the MXene titanium carbide can be dissolved in water to create an ink or paint. The exceptional conductivity of the material enables it to transmit and direct radio waves, even when it's applied in a very thin coating.
"This is a very exciting finding because there is a lot of potential for this type of technology," said Kapil Dandekar, PhD, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the College, and co-author of the research.
"The ability to spray an antenna on a flexible substrate or make it optically transparent means that we could have a lot of new places to set up networks - there are new applications and new ways of collecting data that we can't even imagine at the moment."
The scientists also found that even transparent antennas with thicknesses of tens of nanometers were able to communicate efficiently.
Asia Sarycheva, a doctoral candidate in the A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute and Materials Science and Engineering Department, said that by increasing the thickness up to eight microns, the performance of MXene antenna achieved 98 per cent of its predicted maximum value.
Preserving transmission quality in a form this thin is significant because it would allow antennas to easily be embedded - literally, sprayed on - in a wide variety of objects and surfaces without adding additional weight or circuitry or requiring a certain level of rigidity.
"This technology could enable the truly seamless integration of antennas with everyday objects which will be critical for the emerging Internet of Things," Dandekar added.
"Researchers have done a lot of work with non-traditional materials trying to figure out where manufacturing technology meets system needs, but this technology could make it a lot easier to answer some of the difficult questions we've been working on for years."
The next step for their work will be looking at the best ways to apply it to a wide variety of surfaces from glass to yarn and skin, the researchers said.
"Further research on using materials from the MXene family in wireless communication may enable fully transparent electronics and greatly improved wearable devices that will support the active lifestyles we are living," Anasori added.
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