Here’s a cool project that could help overcome the annoyance and frustration of unreliable wireless signals and connections. Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., has received a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a Smart Antenna and Radio Laboratory charged with investigating more reliable high-bandwidth wireless communications via Wi-Fi. One of the key players in the development project: ANSYS engineering simulation software.
The CAE software will help the university test antenna design performance in a virtual world, reducing the time and costs associated with having to build expensive prototypes and build-and-test methods. With the NSF grant, the Gonzaga lab is investing in dedicated computers that can run the ANSYS software to simulate smart antenna circuits and electromagnetic fields in 3-D structures. Using these engineering simulation processes, the team, headed by Steven D. Schennum, an electric engineering professor, will develop new multi-antenna techniques that improve both the efficiency and bandwidth of wireless communications.
One specific project the Gonzaga team is researching is aimed at overcoming the growing problem of wireless signal interference as many users try to communicate simultaneously over the 2.4GHz band used for Wi-Fi. The smart technologies developed by the team will enable antennas to focus on one user signal at a time, so for example, for a Wi-Fi user working on a laptop with a weak or cross-polarized signal, a smart antenna system would utilize algorithms to optimize the signal to that individual laptop.
Simulation isn’t the method the Gonzaga team is employing for testing its smart antenna designs. The lab is creating a state-of-the-art anechoic chamber for testing physical prototypes, but the chamber is limited in size and shape, in the performance of its absorptive materials and in the range of frequencies that can be accommodated. By simulating electromagnetic fields and currents in a virtual environment using ANSYS, the team can test performance of antenna designs for any location, plane or geometry and over a limitless range of frequencies before moving to the actual physical prototype stage. By employing engineering simulation software, engineers will also be able to run a greater number of what-if scenarios, greatly boosting their ability to innovate and have flexibility in the design process.