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New chip could allow antenna arrays to replace satellite dishes

By

October 19, 2010

Marcel van de Burgwal's multiprocessor microchip

Marcel van de Burgwal's multiprocessor microchip

There was a time not so very long ago when people who wanted satellite TV or radio required dishes several feet across. Those have since been replaced by today’s compact dishes, but now it looks like even those might be on the road to obsolescence. A recent PhD graduate from The Netherlands’ University of Twente has designed a microchip that allows for a grid array of almost-flat antennas to receive satellite signals.

Marcel van de Burgwal’s system would not need to be aimed. Instead, the antenna array would electronically “aim” itself. It is a concept similar to the LOFAR project, in which numerous antennas located across the northeast Dutch countryside are linked together to form a virtual radiotelescopy dish. LOFAR requires a lot of calculations and fast communications, as would van de Burgwal’s system – that’s where the chip comes in.

Instead of the usual elaborate, energy-hungry processors, his system contains multiple smaller, simpler processors on a single chip. They can carry out tasks more flexibly, and can be turned off when not in use. The system’s infrastructure operates as a miniature network, in which TV or radio receivers are defined by software, as opposed to the traditional coils and crystals. The approach allows an entire computer network to be constructed over a space of just a few millimeters.

“Software-defined radio may seem much more complex, but we can pack so much computing power into the space taken up by, for example, a coil that it more than repays the effort”, he stated.

Van de Burgwal also discovered that his multi-processor chip would work well for digital radio reception on smartphones, due to its low energy use. The technology is being further developed by U Twente spin-off company Recore Systems.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
7 Comments

Nations like Iran are banning satellite dishes to stop criticism and information which might subvert state interests. They periodically send cops into neighborhoods to seize dishes and fine owners. While it is not a viable policy, it can help suppress some news and opinions. I have always wondered if a flat reciever might be possible. This would remove a lot of the risk that currently hangs over users, especially if it can be easily camouflaged as in this story:

http://www.gizmag.com/sqish-the-camouflaged-satellite-dish/9537/

Iran is one of several tyrannies where exiled opposition figures and refugees have taken to creating satellite stations and content in national languages which includes banned news and counter government opinions.

Now if a cheap yet high bandwidth outward signal that could not be detected or censored is developed tyrants will be fit to be tied.

Cymon Curcumin
19th October, 2010 @ 10:39 am PDT

The microchip Aerial is not new. they have been around for 20years?.

The advantage of the the dish is the fact that it also amplifies the signal. The bigger the dish the more gain. Any electronic device that amplifies signals also amplify the noise the dish does not. How-ever the latest Rf GAS chips have very low noise & the improvement over the last few years has been great. It can only get better. The only noiseless amplifier is the Parametric device though this has loses & is probably why it is not used much these days.

Cheers Kiwi

John M
19th October, 2010 @ 10:43 am PDT

John, this design does provide gain. As reflecting the signals over a large area onto a single antenna results in more power than a single antenna in free space, absorbing the signal using multiple antennas over an area (the grid array), delaying, and summing their signals does, as well. I'm not sure why the author of this article didn't include any links or references, but search for "Rationale for and design of a generic tiled hierarchical

phased array beamforming architecture" for more information.

nomel
19th October, 2010 @ 03:54 pm PDT

Great he's made a phased array, like the dishes on most modern airborne radar. Check out the apg-65, apg-67 or spy-1 radars for a start. So by modern I mean anything designed since the 1980s. IIRC the beam on the radar of the Rafael is steered by biasing a layer of delaying diodes sandwiched in the antenna plate.

Hey look, Torrey Pines has a phased array satellite antenna.

http://www.torreypinestechnologies.com/RF_Systems.html

Maybe he's made it easier, but there's nothing actually new about this.

chann94501
19th October, 2010 @ 11:39 pm PDT

sorry, pie-in-the-sky

Rex Alfie Lee
20th October, 2010 @ 07:19 am PDT

If this is such old technology as commenters are saying, it sort of makes it seem like gross negligence that no one has implement it at the market level before now. Are satellite receivers that are not big and ugly - not to mention being inconspicuous enough to not attract the attention of totalitarian authorities - not of interest to anyone? Is the electronics industry dominated by self-absorbed and oblivious twerps like the entertainment industry is?

Maybe we should send out a call for examples of technologies which have been invented long ago and promise to improve our lives but which everyone is just sitting on and then implement them.

Cymon Curcumin
20th October, 2010 @ 09:12 am PDT

The reason phased arrays have not been used in consumer applications is that they are really expensive due to the active electronics and tons of connections. A molded dish is a lot cheaper. With no technical details in the article, you can't tell whether some breakthrough will make it cheaper or better, or it's just BS.

Captain Obvious
25th August, 2011 @ 12:43 pm PDT
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