New Sprayable Antennas Could Mean Thinner, Lighter Mobile Devices
Every electronic device that communicates with other devices has an antenna, and the realities of antenna performance often influence the design of the hardware. For example, many of today’s phones have glass back panels because glass is better for antenna performance. What if antennas could go anyplace and be any shape? That might be possible with new spray-on antennas developed at Drexel University’s College of Engineering.
The new sprayable antennas are based on a material also developed at Drexel University in 2011 called MXenes. These are a class of two-dimensional inorganic compounds — they’re sort of the metallic equivalent of graphene. A single sheet of MXenes is about 1 nanometer thick, which is 100,000 times thinner than a sheet of paper. It’s effectively 2D.
In this case, the team used a form of MXenes based on titanium carbide that is metallic conductive and maintains conductivity even when multiple sheets are stacked on top of each other in the manufacturing process. The MXenes starts as a powder, but its soluble in water. After suspending it in a solution, you can spray the MXenes onto your target to create an instant antenna. It can be any shape you want — even a dragon, as demonstrated in the video. Although, that’s probably not the most effective antenna.
You can create antennas in any shape you want with this process, but they have several important functional advantages compared with traditional antennas. For one, they take up much less space. That can free up space inside a device for other components or make it easier to fit antennas in spaces that open up new approaches to hardware design. Manufacturing these antennas is quick and easy, too. You just spray the material onto an object, and you’re done — it doesn’t require a specially treated surface or binding agent. The antennas can also be completely transparent for use in wearables and other devices where internal space is limited.
The spray-on MXenes tech is still in its early stages, but Drexel’s Babak Anasori believes it will only get better over time. The already ultra-thin antennas could get even thinner and more flexible while also getting improved transmission characteristics. The team is planning to study the fundamental nature of extremely thin antennas to make these designs viable in consumer devices. Anasori says that Drexel has a patent on the technology and it could eventually come to market in real products.