Seeing things differently is nothing new to Dr. Kapil Dandekar, a professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering and director of the Drexel Wireless Systems Laboratory. Dandekar and his team have made improvement in wireless communications over the past ten years with work involving reconfigurable antenna models. Recently, their technologies have been brought to market by Daniele Piazza, a doctoral graduate and long-term team member, and his company Adant Technologies Inc.
“Reconfigurable antennas are capable of adapting themselves to the needs of the overlying communication system,” Dandekar explained as to why these new antenna models are so effective for relaying information. “Rabbit ear” antennas that were once very commonly used for television signals are an example of reconfigurable antennas that can be mechanically adapted to receive a better quality signal. The reconfigurable antennas that have been developed at Drexel can be adapted electrically rather than mechanically and are compact enough so that they can be integrated with wireless devices like WiFi access points, laptops and cell phones. Also, in addition to using these reconfigurable antennas to increase the amount of information that can be sent from a transmitter to a receiver, we are also developing strategies to use these antennas to mitigate interference from surrounding transmitters, as well as provide additional layers of security that can protect sensitive information.
Dandekar’s novel approach has an equally interesting source of inspiration: Terminator 2. “In the movie, there is a liquid metal robot that was able to change its form,” he said. “One of the thoughts that I had when I saw that movie is that if an antenna could also be made to change its shape in such a flexible manner, that it could provide a valuable degree of freedom for future radio technologies. In the lab, we have not only focused on designing and building these new types of antennas, but we have also considered how these antennas can be integrated into practical communication systems.”
Now, ten years from its inception, Dandekar’s technology will be available in the market in the form of the ZyXEL WC6500 series, a Wi-Fi access point powered by Arden Technology’s antenna with “beam shaping” capability. For some, the success may be enough to pull them into the business side of things and give up research, but such is not the case for Dandekar, who instead sees the experience as a chance to improve his techniques. “I am very happy doing what I’m doing,” he said, “and I plan to continue to work as a researcher with an eye towards commercializing promising technologies that are developed in my lab.”
Also key to his decision to continue his research is the experience of Daniele Piazza. “Observing a [doctoral] graduate, Daniele Piazza, from my lab form a company and successfully commercialize this technology has definitely provided many insights that can be used in my research. In my opinion, one of the defining characteristics of an engineer is the ability to identify and manage constraints in order to address a challenge. These constraints are not only technological, but also ethical, environmental, economical, societal, etc. Gaining additional insight into the commercialization process has helped me identify practical constraints that need to be considered when taking a technology to market, and I believe that this knowledge will be very helpful as I move forward with my research,” Dandekar said.
With a decade of research under his belt, Dandekar has become incredibly familiar with the process of design and development, and is proud to have called Drexel’s labs home for that time. He said, “My lab received a lot of support from the Drexel Office of Technology Transfer and Commercialization under the leadership of Robert McGrath, in commercializing these and other technologies. Given Drexel’s history of ‘use-inspired research’ and the launch of Drexel Ventures, I am hopeful that Drexel is building a strong culture that will empower students like Daniele to apply what they have learned in the classroom and developed in the laboratory to form their own companies and commercialize their technology.”
Despite all the success he has found along the way, Dandekar cited the process, not the products, as the true reward of his work. “It has truly been a pleasure to work with my colleagues at Drexel on various efforts relating to this technology over the years and I look forward to the opportunity to continue with similar efforts in the future,” he said.