Friday, January 29, 2010

Driving around in my Infotainment-mobile

Home entertainment electronics are finding their way into new vehicles, merging with car-specific functions such as navigation, hands-free phone control, and telematics. "Infotainment" as the technology has been termed, describes the complete ecosystem of electronic devices for automobile-based information and entertainment. Audio and video devices, as well as navigation systems and telematics, are merging into single, fully-integrated systems, creating new challenges for system designers.

Much of the responsibility for the quality of the infotainment system rests with the designers of in-car radio. Thanks to technological breakthroughs in integrated circuits, filters, amplifiers, and antenna designs, sound quality has improved with each new generation of receiver. Broadcasting technology itself has also been upgraded through the Radio Data System (RDS) extension, which offers specialized features for mobile receivers.

Terrestrial digital broadcasting systems, such as digital audio broadcasting (DAB), HD-Radio, Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), and satellite radio, offer a suite of attractive advantages, although they are still striving to achieve mainstream customer awareness and high-volume market success.

Since more radio functions generally requires additional hardware, available space within the automotive radio-head unit is hard to come by. The compact nature of the electronics also leads to power consumption and heat dissipation problems which must be addressed. The close proximity of electronic systems within the radio-head unit can cause interference and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) issues, which can result in serious performance problems. This is especially true for sensitive analog building blocks such as the receiver front end and signal lines. Designers must work carefully, using shielding and rigorous testing, to verify that the effects of EMC and interference can be controlled.

Developing next-generation automotive radio platforms that are cost-effective and robust enough to meet customer demands will be a challenge for both OEMs and suppliers. The rapidly accelerating technologies of these systems will require robust product design followed by thorough product qualification. These challenges along with the growing market demand spell potential job opportunities for system designers and engineers with a good handle on EMI issues. We just need to keep our eyes on the road.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Harris Stratex Changes Name to Aviat Networks

Harris Stratex Networks announced today that it has changed its name to Aviat Networks, Inc. (the Company’s ticker symbol will change to AVNW). The new brand represents a culmination of the Company’s transformation over the last three years from that of a specialized microwave backhaul equipment supplier into a leading provider of advanced IP wireless network solutions, with a comprehensive portfolio of migration solutions and lifecycle services. Aviat Networks states that they are positioned to help operators successfully evolve their existing networks toward an all-IP broadband future, expand into untapped rural and remote markets, and capitalize on the explosive growth of mobile data traffic around the globe.

Talking to Microwave Journal, Shaun McFall, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Aviat Networks, emphasised the company’s intentions to take the opportunity to move forward, saying, “We have carried the label of a legacy supplier in the past, but what we want to concentrate on now is what we have been working on for a number of years, which is IP networking in the wireless base. We are going to continue that work with our goal being for Aviat Networks to become synonymous with IP networking in wireless – both in backhaul and radio access.”

You can see our full write up of the briefing from our International Editor, Richard Mumford, here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Shape Shifting Liquid Antennas

I am a little late in catching this story from Dec, but it is too interesting to pass up. Researchers at NC State published a potentially revolutionary technology for antenna design, liquid antennas. The antenna consists of liquid metal injected into elastomeric microchannels. The antennas can be deformed (twisted and bent) since the mechanical properties are dictated by the elastomer and not the metal. Creating shape-shifting antennas could open the door to a host of new uses in fields ranging from public safety to military applications.

The new antennas are made by injecting a eutectic alloy of Ga and In, which remains in liquid form at room temperature, into very small channels the width of a human hair. The channels are hollow with openings at either end but can be any shape. Once the alloy has filled the channel, the surface of the alloy oxidizes, creating a “skin” that holds the alloy in place while allowing it to retain its liquid properties.

For example, the researchers injected the alloy into elastic silicone channels, creating wirelike antennas that are incredibly resilient and that can be manipulated into a variety of shapes. Since the frequency is determined by the antennas size/shape, it can be tuned by stretching it.

Its durability and flexibility also open the door to a host of new applications. For example, an antenna in a flexible silicone shell could be used to monitor civil construction, such as bridges. As the bridge expands and contracts, it would stretch the antenna – changing the frequency of the antenna, and providing civil engineers information wirelessly about the condition of the bridge. This had become a priority issue as aging structures have failed in the recent past. There has also been a lot of work done to power the wireless devices with energy harvesting devices so they do not really need servicing.

Flexibility and durability are also ideal characteristics for military equipment, since the antenna could be folded or rolled up into a small package for deployment and then unfolded again without any impact on its function. These new applications are the most likely uses for the new antennas, since the alloy is more expensive than the copper typically used in most consumer electronics. So high performance or new applications could utilize this more expensive solution but maybe other liquid metals or alloys could reduce the cost in the future.

Dickey’s lab is performing further research under a National Science Foundation grant to better understand the alloy’s properties and means of utilizing it to create useful devices. The research, “Reversibly Deformable and Mechanically Tunable Fluidic Antennas,” is published in Advanced Functional Materials.