Mar 2, 2011

NSF-funded Antenna Project at Gonzaga University Relies on ANSYS

Engineering Simulation Critical to "Smart" Antenna System Research.

PITTSBURGH - Engineering simulation software from ANSYS is playing an invaluable role in a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project to develop innovative "smart" antenna systems. Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., received a nearly $1.2 million award to develop a Smart Antenna and Radio Laboratory in part to investigate more reliable high-bandwidth wireless communications via Wi-Fi. The use of ANSYS® technology will enable the university to test antenna design performance virtually, reducing time and costs associated with expensive prototype build-and-test methods.

One of the Gonzaga research projects is aimed at overcoming the growing problem of wireless signal interference, as many users try to communicate simultaneously over the 2.4GHz band used for Wi-Fi. The smart technologies developed by the team -- headed by Steven D. Schennum, an electrical engineering professor -- will enable antennas to focus on one user signal at a time. For example, for a Wi-Fi user working on a laptop with a weak or cross-polarized signal, a smart antenna system would utilize algorithms to optimize the signal to that individual laptop.

The NSF grant provides Gonzaga with funding for dedicated computers running ANSYS software that simulates smart antenna circuits and electromagnetic fields in three-dimensional structures. Using engineering simulation, Schennum and his team will develop new multi-antenna techniques that improve both the efficiency and bandwidth of wireless communications.

The use of ANSYS software is critical in bringing these intelligent technologies to market both quickly and cost-effectively.

"We're creating a state-of-the art anechoic chamber for testing our physical antenna prototypes, but even the best antenna test chambers are limited in their size and shape, the performance of their absorptive materials, and the range of frequencies they can accommodate," Schennum said. "By simulating electromagnetic fields and currents in a virtual environment using ANSYS software, we can test the performance of our antenna designs for any location, plane or geometry -- and over a limitless range of frequencies -- before moving to the prototype stage."

Engineering simulation also supports a higher level of innovation and greater flexibility during the design process, enabling researchers to run countless what-if scenarios. HFSS™ and DesignerRF™ from ANSYS provide results at a system level -- including fabricated metal parts, cables and other components -- to capture the effect of individual changes on how the antenna system performs as a whole.

"The antenna design laboratory has the potential to impact millions of wireless communications users around the world -- starting with Gonzaga's students learning about the benefits of engineering simulation," said Markus Kopp, product manager for electronics at ANSYS. "The radio spectrum is a highly valuable resource. In the past, researchers have used advanced engineering principles to identify ways we can use that spectrum much more efficiently. Smart antenna technology is the next step in that continuum, and Gonzaga University sees the value in using ANSYS technology to help accomplish that."