Vehicles such as cars, ships and aircraft need to stay in stable contact with earth-orbiting satellites, in order for on-board functions like GPS, internet access and satellite television reception to work properly. As the vehicles move, their orientation to those satellites changes, so electronically-redirectable phased-array antennas are typically required. According to scientists at Germany's Technische Universität Darmstadt, however, these are "either very expensive or only sluggishly redirectable." That's why doctoral candidate Onur Hamza Karabey is working on a low-cost, fast-performing alternative - a liquid crystal antenna.

Karabey's current prototype incorporates four LCD cells. By varying the voltage applied to each of those cells, he has been able to selectively amplify radio signals coming from specific directions.

Because the antenna has no moving parts, it can align itself with a satellite within milliseconds. Karabey hopes that a commercial version could be manufactured using a process similar to that used for existing LCD monitors, which should help to keep costs down - he expects the device to sell for no more than 600 euro (US$790).

At about five millimeters in thickness, such antennas could also be fairly unobtrusively built into car roofs. It might also be possible to make them partially transparent, further opening up the potential applications.

Karabey and a research partner are now working on a 16 x 16-cell advanced prototype. He is also putting together a consortium of industry partners, to produce a commercial product.

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