Is that an antenna in your pocket or ...?

Ohio State University researchers armed with sewing machines and computers have come up with a way to weave radio antennas into clothing in an effort to give wearers more flexible and reliable communications capabilities.

Using plastic film and metallic thread, the researchers are attempting to outfit American soldiers with better and less intrusive wireless technology, though they say the hands-free design could be applicable to others, including police, firefighters and the elderly.

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The researchers outline their antenna design in the journal IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters. They acknowledge the concept of wearable antennas isn't new (combine what they're doing and some of the invisibility cloak designs that would be woven into clothing and you'd really have something!). But the OSU researchers claim their design is an improvement over past efforts in that it boosts antenna range fourfold by utilizing a computer controller that fits on a belt and works with multiple antennas that can send and receive signals in all directions. Network coding that coordinates communications among antennas also plays a key role.

John Volakis, director of the ElectroScience Laboratory at Ohio State, says embedding antennas into clothing follows a similar concept of integrating antennas into cellphones themselves, doing away with awkward antennas of old that stuck out and could break off. Weaving antennas into clothing in such a way that they don't touch human skin and lose their signals can be a challenge, though, says Volakis, who co-authored the paper with Gil-Young Lee, Dimitrios Psychoudakis and Chi-Chih Chen (look no further than last year's notorious Apple iPhone 4 antenna-gate).

Ohio State's team is partnering with antenna design company Applied EM to commercialize the technology, which was funded by a Small Business Innovation Research grant.

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