A patch about the size of the leather name tab on a pair of jeans could save your life one day - should you be stranded at sea, that is. In a project overseen by the European Space Agency (ESA), researchers from Finnish company Patria and the Tampere University of Technology have created a flexible fabric antenna, that can be sewn into life vests. Once activated, that antenna transmits its coordinates to earth-orbiting satellites, that can immediately relay the location to rescue personnel.
The device utilizes the Cospas-Sarsat worldwide search and rescue satellite system, an international project that has been in use since the Cold War. Cospas-Sarsat incorporates satellite-based receivers, that are continuously listening for emergency radio beacons from transmitters on ships, aircraft or people. When a signal is received, it is relayed to a ground receiving station, followed by a mission control center, and then a rescue coordination center.
When sea trials of the antenna were conducted, its location was attained within a matter of minutes.
Not only is the device flexible, lightweight, and wear- and waterproof, but it is also surprisingly small for an antenna that transmits at such low frequencies. Larger antennas are typically required for these frequencies, which are what Cospas-Sarsat is set up to receive.
Along with the life vest-mounted antenna, the ESA project is also developing one that could be attached to a diving vest. The device could perhaps find its way into the high-tech fisherman's gear being developed through the European Safe@Sea project, which is designed to stop a boat's engine when the fisherman falls overboard, and to inflate upon contact with the water.
Previously, wearable antenna technology has been focused more on military applications
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