Breakthrough Fabrication Technology Expected to Spur Wider Commercial Use of These Adjustable Directive Antennas
Irvine, Calif., October 7, 2003 — UC Irvine electrical engineering professor Franco De Flaviis has been awarded a $1.2 million grant from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration) to fabricate lighter and less expensive "phased array" antennas that could be incorporated into commercial products.
De Flaviis will create the antennas using a breakthrough technology he developed at UCI, the first to simultaneously fabricate an array of antennas and a phase shifter, the component that adjusts and directs the antennas. The technology eliminates the need to connect the pieces later in the assembly process, saving time and money and streamlining the design process.
"With this new fabrication technology, we will be able to manufacture large arrays that formerly cost $250,000 for a mere $15,000," said De Flaviis, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. "The technology will allow industry to incorporate powerful and sophisticated phased array antennas into commercial products such as laptops or televisions. For example, these antennas make it possible to provide direct TV in a car."
Before today, the large size and high cost of phased array antennas prevented their use outside of the military.
Unlike a single antenna found on a cell phone, an array of antennas offers significant advantages in wireless communications. It delivers a stronger, more focused signal than a single antenna. A phased array system also is adjustable, so the user can point the signal toward a specific location, making it less likely to be intercepted.
In developing the new class of phased array antennas, De Flaviis also achieved cost savings by using less expensive materials. The antennas and phase shifter are fabricated onto an inexpensive plastic printed circuit board, which is commonly used in personal computers. Until now, the shifter was fabricated on a base of gallium arsenide, an expensive semiconductor material.
The new generation of antennas will be manufactured in the UCI Integrated Nanosystems Research Facility (INRF), an 8,600-square-foot clean room facility (class 10,000/1,000/100) offering all of the major semiconductor equipment, facilities and chemicals needed to fabricate microscale devices. The antennas also will undergo testing inside the UCI Microwave Lab's anechoic chamber, which is the largest in the UC system.