Chasm Adds Production Facility for Transparent Antennas

By Claire Swedberg

 

  • The company’s clear, carbon-nanotube based material is being used or tested for NFC, Bluetooth, ZigBee, 5G and other wireless networks for automotive and other markets.
  • Antennas will be offered with phased-array functionality by next year.

Since releasing a transparent material for RF antennas, Chasm is expanding production capacity to produce ten million antennas per year, with its printed electronics facility and with fabrication partners around the world. Next year, the company expects to offer phased-array functionality to meet more applications for near-invisible technology.

The production facility in Canton, MA, is intended to meet what the company anticipates as growth in new IoT and wireless communication applications using the clear antenna. Companies have begun applying antennas with Chasm’s AgenNT material as a way to discretely provide connectivity on vehicles, as well as on windows, surveillance cameras and EV charging stations, among others.

The AgenNT antenna technology is being used for 5G connectivity, including small cells for urban cellular and data service, said Bob Praino, Chasm cofounder and COO. The antennas can also be built for NFC, Bluetooth, ZigBee or other wireless networks.

In development, Chasm teamed with antenna designers Cambridge Consultants, for designing and simulation.

What Sets Chasm Apart

The company’s innovation centers around carbon nanotubes (CNT) built into its materials to provide strength, flexibility and conductivity, while enabling near-transparency. While there are other transparent antenna companies, Chasm’s is unique in its flexible film substrate, said Dan Skiba, Chasm’s printed electronics VP.  The company also makes transparent heaters, low-carbon cement and battery materials.

Global antenna and advanced IoT components provider Taoglas has launched antenna products that leverage Chasm's hybrid transparent conductor technology, known as AgeNT.

Today, the company’s customers can use a simulation model to see what the antennas would look like for the applications they target—including satellites, cellular devices, NFC tags or Wi-Fi sensors, often used in automotive applications.

Phased Array Antennas in the Works

Beginning in January, Chasm and Cambridge Consultants began developing the material for use in phased-array antennas. A group of antennas in a phased array work together like a single antenna. They typically are arranged in two- or three-dimensional grids and use a beamforming feature to beam radio waves that can be electronically steered, enabling the antennas to direct RF transmissions in specific orientation without being moved physically.

For those using the Chasm technology, the phased-array version could enable sensors to take advantage of a network of antennas in a rural or urban area, or even on the windshields of cars, to serve a large number of users with a few transmitter systems.

When a phased-array antenna is attached to a car windshield, or building window, it could leverage other antennas in the area, while not blocking the aesthetics of the window.

“If you put antennas in an urban environment you can have a single source transmitter that is multi dimensional and then can also broadcast to numerous antennas,” said Praino.

Applying to Car Windshields

The automotive industry provides an ideal application for such transparent antennas, due to the large amount of glass and the need for mobile connectivity. Typically, Chasm’s customers are the glass companies producing the moon roofs and the windshields built into vehicles. These companies are often responding to requirements from vehicle OEMs related to connectivity.

There are other applications for transparent antennas as well. For instance, covert operations used by militaries or law enforcement organizations can benefit from connectivity provided through antennas that are nearly invisible.

Additionally, the antennas could be attached to streetlights, bulbs or surveillance cameras, without impacting operation or aesthetics. Another use case is application with augmented reality or virtual reality glasses.

In these cases, said Praino, “We're putting antennas right onto the lens outside of the view of the user,” and Chasm is working with companies that have prototyped and are taking those prototypes to the consumer market to show what is possible.

Farming and EV Vehicle Charging

The transparent antenna material could benefit other industries as well, said Skiba, including agriculture where connectivity to sensors could help growers monitor soil and water conditions in real-time. Transparent antennas can be mounted on glass or other surfaces of agricultural equipment and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor land and animals.

EV vehicle charging stations can benefit from putting a cellular antenna on a charging station screen.

Yet one more application can be found in emergency response vehicles. Here connectivity could be provided via cellular 4G or 5G, expanding to other systems in the future as technology evolves, said Praino.

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