Smart antennas could “make the world a better place”
This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.
Low-cost antennas may one day bring Internet connectivity to billions of people in developing countries. Safieddin (Ali) Safavi-Naeini, a University of Waterloo professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been immersed for more than 15 years in the complex technical details of his work on intelligent antenna systems for Internet connectivity.
But as he embarks on the next phase of his cutting-edge research – a five-year project backed by $6.1 million in joint government-industry funding that was announced this year – he hasn’t lost sight of what his research could ultimately mean in the big picture. “I am very optimistic that this will make the world a better place,” said Safavi-Naeini, director of the Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems (CIARS) at Waterloo Engineering. “I’m hopeful we engineers can be a force for change.”
A team of researchers led by Safavi-Naeini, is developing low-cost, modular antennas capable of redirecting themselves electronically to maintain links with overhead satellites or base stations for ground networks. Their most immediate application, the focus of a partnership with C-COM Satellite Systems Inc. of Ottawa, will be delivering broadband Internet service to moving vehicles – cars, planes, trains, buses – anywhere in the world.
Safavi-Naeini is “very honoured” to think the so-called active antenna systems – essentially many tiny, simple antennas working together, instead of one large parabolic antenna – could bring knowledge and opportunity to billions of people who have been left behind so far by the high-tech revolution.