Robots can now automatically create antenna arrays to improve network connectivity
ADELPHI, Md. -- Army and university researchers collaborated to develop a controller for deploying robots, which forms antenna arrays to maintain longer-range wireless communication. Antennas are distributed between mobile robots allowing the controller to autonomously guide robots to create and maintain a reliable wireless communication network in challenging battlefield environments.
Recent progress in antenna design for the lower bands of the very high frequency, or VHF, range and corresponding parasitic antenna array research shows it is possible to form multi-robot antenna arrays, said Jeff Twigg, researcher with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory.
In a recent paper, Twigg, Dr. Brian Sadler CCDC ARL and Dr. Nikhil Chopra from the University of Maryland, College Park propose a directional model that describes an approach to maximize overall network connectivity. Through simulation, they test their approach and demonstrate its ability to increase communication range by automatically increasing array size.
“We proposed a simple way to model the antenna gain created by forming a particular type of antenna array, which is composed of passive (unpowered) and active (powered) antennas,” Twigg said. “We also determined the speed and direction in which these antenna arrays should move so that a network of these antenna arrays will always be connected. Our research also describes how quickly new antenna-robots should be added to different antenna arrays and where these antennas should be placed.”
Theses arrays increase communications range by using robots composing the array to position passive antennas that reflect and focus radiation around a robot with an active antenna. They extend communication range in a desired direction in urban and indoor environments.
Existing control formulations are not general enough to support this new capability, Twigg said. “We want to know how to deploy groups of these arrays.”
When Soldiers need to communicate over a longer distance, they need to increase the power of their transmitter and/or the gain of their antenna, Twigg said. “This approach allows us to increase the gain without increasing power,” he said.
Maintaining connectivity between an ensemble of autonomous or semi-autonomous systems is critical for mission completion, Chopra said. “This paper has developed a new framework for addressing this problem successfully in challenging operational environments,” he said.
For the Army, this research is critical to its Modernization Priorities, which will allow it to fight and win in multi-domain operations.
“The Next Generation Combat Vehicle and Network Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence Modernization Priorities require innovative ways of establishing and maintaining communications,” Twigg said. “This research describes how autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles can create and maintain a reliable communications network.”
According to Twigg, this research will help guide concepts about how parasitic antenna arrays should be deployed. In the short term, it will help Soldiers know when and where to create parasitic antenna arrays. In the long-term, he said, it will guide robots and other autonomous systems to automatically maintain communication.
“Our approach is especially reliable in challenging environments where there are high buildings or dense forest cover,” Twigg said. “In these environments, WiFi or cellular coverage is not reliable. This research and future efforts will help develop technologies that enable reliable communication for these environments.”
CCDC Army Research Laboratory is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army’s corporate research laboratory, ARL is operationalizing science to achieve transformational overmatch. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more successful at winning the nation’s wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the Army Futures Command.