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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/W037734/1
Title: Transparent Transmitters and Programmable Metasurfaces for Transport and Beyond-5G (TRANSMETA)
Principal Investigator: Whittow, Professor WG
Other Investigators:
Panagamuwa, Dr CJ Lambotharan, Professor S
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Airbus Operations Limited Association for BME Engineers (AFBE-UK) BAE Systems
Her Majesty's Government Communications META Materials Inc. Printed Eelectronics ltd
QinetiQ Satellite Applications Catapult Steatite Limited
Toshiba Womens Engineering Society WSP Group plc UK
Department: Wolfson Sch of Mech, Elec & Manufac Eng
Organisation: Loughborough University
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 May 2023 Ends: 31 October 2026 Value (£): 637,215
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Electronic Devices & Subsys. RF & Microwave Technology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
04 Jul 2022 EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel July 2022 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
As communications move towards higher frequencies for higher data rates, concrete structures and buildings will significantly reduce the electromagnetic signal strength compared to windows. The overarching vision of TRANSMETA is to create transparent intelligent reflecting metasurfaces that could be placed on the windows of buildings or vehicles, and which would intelligently reflect the incoming electromagnetic wave from a base station directly to the user (either inside or outside) to improve signal reception quality. Metasurfaces can also filter certain frequencies, change the polarisation, or reduce the reflections from radar.

The challenges to achieving this are:

1. For transparent conductors there is a trade-off between optical transparency and electrical conductivity in terms of layer thickness and frequency response which needs to be quantified. There are also practical challenges in how to connect these materials electrically and physically to the conventional opaque electronics.

TRANSMETA will address this by investigating two approaches for the conductors: i) metallic meshes on the sub-micron scale where the lines are too small for the human eye to see; ii), if the results are not as required, a complementary technique using indium tin oxide will also be investigated. To test their performance, transparent antennas and static metasurfaces, such as frequency selective surfaces, will be fabricated and measured.

2. Novel metasurfaces must be designed based on the material properties.

TRANSMETA will address this by carrying out extensive studies using commercial electromagnetic software with input from the earlier measurements. The effect of the ground plane at the rear of the metasurface will be investigated and we will aim to maximise the optical transparency. As an alternative to the reflecting metasurfaces, transmitting surfaces will also be designed where no rear ground plane is required.

3. The practical challenges of fabricating these metasurfaces must be investigated.

TRANSMETA will initially make static (non-intelligent) metasurfaces which can reflect the signal between two fixed positions, tested by blocking the direct signal in the anechoic chambers at Loughborough University. This will be applicable if there were known communication dead zones in buildings which will become increasingly common as we move towards higher frequencies. Of course, optical transparency is not always essential for these novel metasurfaces, but it increases the scope of applications.

4. To make the metasurface intelligent, reconfigurability must be integrated into the system.

TRANSMETA will address this with two techniques: i) vanadium dioxide where the properties change from being an insulator to a conductor when a direct current is applied, ii) PIN diodes. There are challenges in integrating these techniques into the system while also maximising the transparency. The direct current bias lines can be made transparent, but their optimum position and orientation are critical to the overall performance.

5. A further challenge in achieving the intelligence is being able to sense where the transmitter and user are located in order to reflect the signal in the correct direction.

TRANSMETA will develop a sensing system that uses the pilot signals from the base station and user and then applies signal processing to retrieve the directions. A field-programmable gate array (FPGA) will control the metasurface behaviour accordingly.

Finally, all these elements will be integrated together to create metasurface demonstrators which will be tested in real-world environments with support from our 12 industrial Project Partners.

The impact of successfully completing this project will be improved capability for beyond-5G communication systems. Utilising transparent conductors will enable these intelligent metasurfaces to be employed in vehicles and building windows.

Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.lboro.ac.uk