Reliable communications are almost as critical to the modern soldier as their weapons and ammunition. Conventional whip-antennas are not only cumbersome and conspicuous, but they don't always provide a reliable link between a soldier laying on the ground and one standing up. Meanwhile, the short antenna of a portable radio can mean the signal is masked by the user's body. To provide more reliable, continuous 360-degree radio coverage, BAE Systems has developed a series of Body Wearable Antennas (BWAs) that, like the experimental antenna system recently developed at Ohio State University, sees the antennas weaved into the fibers of a uniform.

The concept demonstrator developed by BAE not only provides 360-degree communications coverage whilst improving the agility of the soldier, it also transmits voice, video data from a helmet-mounted camera and GPS location information via the same antenna. BAE says such capabilities would improve the situational awareness of a military team as a whole by allowing soldiers to see through the eyes of their teammates in real time.

The demonstration system developed by BAE also includes a commercially available touchscreen smartphone that is mounted on the wrist. Using the smartphone's GPS sensor, the positions on the various team members can be overlaid on a moving map. The team can also tag objects, such as potential hazards, that will appear highlighted on the phone's display.

"Frontline soldiers carry a huge amount of weight when on patrol. Research into body wearable antennas has shown we could reduce this burden and in the future give forces improved communication capabilities and a significant advantage on the battlefield," says Jon Pinto, Antennas and Electromagnetics Group Leader from BAE Systems Advanced Technology Centre.

BAE Systems is also exploring non-military uses of the technology. It is currently looking at the potential to incorporate BWAs into the suits of fire-fighters for use in search and rescue operations, for police patrol members to keep a track of colleagues on the street, and in other hazardous industries, such as mining, oil and gas.