A new communications design based around origami patterns could allow radio antenna to adapt their structure under certain conditions, increasing their versatility and usefulness. The technology was conceived and designed thanks to the school of origami engineering.
Origami engineering is a useful discipline when space is limited, allowing objects to be stored away as in 2D, then deployed as a 3D structure when needed.
The art of origami relies entirely on geometry, which is highly useful in mechanical design.
Of course, most engineering projects require materials significantly thicker and stronger than paper. This branch of engineering focuses on active materials and smart structures that can move as and when they need to.
The new communications technology uses radio frequency filters that have adjustable dimensions, meaning they can interact with and influence different frequencies depending on how they’re deployed.
The team, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, used one particular pattern of origami known as Miura-Ori, which can expand and contract like an accordion. This origami fold was invented by Japanese astrophysicist Koryo Miura.
This pattern was chosen because it has an infinite amount of possible permutations along its range of extension.
Silver dipoles were then applied along the folds, allowing the structure to filter radio frequencies. When the folds bend closer together, the resonant frequencies shift higher along the spectrum. Measurements show the antenna is able to change its resonance frequency from 750 MHz to 920 MHz.
Based on the radiation requirements of the targeted wireless communication application, the antenna can be reconfigured to have a broader beam-width and a lower gain, or to have a narrower beam-width and a higher gain.
3D printed frames hold the dipoles in place, with a single cut was made across each dipole that allows them to bend easier.
The sheets used were around a tenth of a millimetre thick, but the design could be transported to lightweight but strong materials.
This field draws upon another field of engineering called ‘flexible electronics’, but this particular design is part of the emerging field of ‘origami engineering.’ It transforms flat objects into three dimensional structures with complex geometries. This has massive potential for both mechanical design and self-assembly, opening the door to machinery that can adapt without external commands.
In theory, this technology could be used to create electromagnetic cloaking devices. This could be reconfigured to reflect different frequencies, meaning the system would be highly reactive and versatile in many different settings.
The structure is flat when fully extended, and compact when compressed, so could be used in a variety of settings.
Origami engineering has already been applied in the healthcare and energy sectors, but thanks to this development, it is now moving into the communications industry.