This new nano-antenna that needs no power could define IoT’s future

23 Aug 2017

Sensor on a farm that could use this technology as part of IoT. Image: AJCespedes/Shutterstock

A newly developed nano-antenna, 100 times smaller than existing ones, could be a godsend for future IoT devices.

Developing smaller antennas for wireless devices is an obvious choice when scalability and cost are at play, but a new model from Northeastern University in the US takes things to a whole new level.

Publishing its findings in the journal Nature Communications, a team of researchers revealed a new kind of antenna that is around 100 times smaller than conventional ones.

Based on two membranes, the first is made of iron, gallium and boron layers, and, using the phenomenon of piezomagnetism, it converts mechanical oscillations to magnetic signals.

Meanwhile, the second membrane, made of aluminium nitride layers, uses piezoelectricity to convert mechanical oscillations to electric signals.

When electromagnetic signals strike the first membrane, it induces oscillations – this results in the creation of a magnetic signal, which is then received by the second membrane.

This produces the necessary electrical signals needed for transmission and receiving, such as generating GPS coordinates, or for internet of things (IoT) devices.

Changing 100 years of antenna technology

The study’s lead author, Nian-Xiang Sun, said to IEEE Spectrum that this was a major breakthrough in the field of communications and materials science.

“This acoustic antenna concept changes the fundamental principle on which antennas have been designed for over a century, and can lead to dramatically compact antennas with improved performance,” he said.

The team said it has already tested its antenna by installing versions of it on Wi-Fi, GPS and FM radio devices. It reported that they work as expected, but added that they could be further expanded to telecoms.

Most importantly for IoT technology, they require no external power source as they are passively powered.

This is often cited as a necessity in an IoT future where billions of devices would be connected, each requiring their own power source.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic