Engineers at Drexel University developed a new antenna that learns and adjusts the shape and direction of a radio transmission to ensure a steady connection. They were thrilled with the results and wanted to show off their antenna, but first they needed to find a way to demonstrate invisible signals. To solve this dilemma, they created an app called BeamViewer that uses augmented reality to visualize antenna performance. The app could end up being just as exciting as the antenna they originally intended to demonstrate.
BeamViewer uses cloud networking to link with the nodes that control the antennas. Then it uses a smartphone’s camera view to overlay the scene with antenna beam graphics to show the direction of the electromagnetic signals. Drexel’s reconfigurable antenna’s beams shift their shape and direction to avoid blocking from any obstructions that get between the transmitter and receiver, as well as preventing interference from other devices.
Before this app, the only way to ‘visualize’ what the antennas were doing in real- time was to look at indirect link throughput and quality measures. With BeamViewer we can show the difference between a standard antenna — which has a signal pattern that looks like a static, floating doughnut — and smart reconfigurable antennas, whose signals are always adjusting to find a better direction.
The engineers presented their app at the IEEE International Conference on Computer Communications in San Francisco in April. They plan to make iOS and Android versions publicly available as a teaching and research tool. Users will be able to see invisible electromagnetic signals in real-time, so they can visualize the patterns and interact to see how an antenna adapts to interference.