NORMAN, Okla. - Military operations rely heavily on communications tools to connect soldiers in the field with operations at base. But the large, shiny, metal "whip" antennae widely used in the military become cumbersome and limit mobility while also drawing undue attention.
Jessica Ruyle, electrical and computer engineering professor in the University of Oklahoma College of Engineering, is improving communication abilities for soldiers in the field by literally reshaping how they transmit communications. With a nearly $500,000 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Ruyle will design and develop a thin, flat antenna that can be placed conformably on anything from vehicles to uniforms - making the antennas both less conspicuous and more rugged for field use.
"The design is similar to a sticker that is flexible and can conform to a variety of surfaces and shapes," Ruyle explained. "What makes it radical is that it is a completely different antenna than what is currently being used in our nation's defense."
Invented in the late 1800s, whip antennae have been a staple in military communications. Inexpensive production cost and easy installation has kept the metal antenna in military use for more than 80 years with little design updates. However, the antennae make identification of communications vehicles and soldiers obvious and are easily damaged in rough terrain; a simple bend of the antenna can significantly reduce performance. Ruyle's new thin, flat antenna design allows communications systems to operate uninterrupted in the field.
While Ruyle's technology is for military use, her design won't be limited to military applications. Police forces, firefighting teams and commercial airplanes are some of the areas where the new design can improve efficiency. Police and firefighters can incorporate the antennas into their uniforms and vehicles to replace cumbersome, traditional whip antennae. Aircraft that hang large antennae can improve aerodynamics with the smooth, flat antenna sticker.
"DARPA allows researchers like me to push the envelope with design and application," Ruyle said. "I'm excited that my work also will help spur innovation for industrial and commercial uses."
As an educator as well as researcher, Ruyle looks forward to further educating the graduate students who will join her to develop the new antenna design. The grant funds a student team to assist Ruyle while they also use the project to support their thesis or dissertation.
"The work we do has a very real impact on the world," Ruyle said. "This is a great example I can show students of how as engineers we solve fundamental, everyday problems."
The University of Oklahoma College of Engineering challenges students to solve the world's toughest problems through a powerful combination of education, entrepreneurship, research, and community service and student competitions. Research is focused on both basic and applied topics of societal significance, including biomedical engineering, energy, engineering education, civil infrastructure, nanotechnology and weather technology.
The programs within the college's eight areas of study are consistently ranked in the top third of engineering programs in the United States, with research expenditures of more than $22 million and the formation of 12 start-up companies.