Remember the days when a car antenna was a long metal rod designed purely for radio reception and to snap off in car washes? Perhaps you don’t, but the humble antenna has come a long way in a short time.
Fully integrating the car into our connected lifestyles for navigation, infotainment, ADAS and other features means the car could theoretically end up covered from one end to the other with as many as 18 antennas. Each would serve its own distinct communication function, transmitting or receiving within its respective frequency range – and presenting an almighty headache for car designers, engineers and aerodynamicists.
“The conformal antenna is completely unobtrusive and allows designers to retain sleek exterior lines. You have to make a whole lot of electronics and conflicting signals work together within a very small space."
The answer to this problem is to combine multiple antennas into one multi-band, conformal antenna packaged within a single module. However, what may sound like a simple solution, is anything but that. “You have to make a whole lot of electronics and conflicting signals work together within a very small space, then adapt it to the exterior shape of the vehicle," says Vishnu Sundaram, Vice President, Business Unit Telematics at HARMAN. “Reliability is crucial and EMI/EMC considerations are extremely complex."
Originally imagined from antenna designs in the military aerospace and mobile phone industries, Harman has been able to tap into Samsung's extensive experience in mobile antenna design for mobile phones, where phone antennas have been invisible now for over 15 years.
What does “conformal" mean. Simply stated, the antenna system is flush with the vehicle's body surface, with no protruding elements. The antenna is mounted in an opening in the vehicle's body surface called an “aperture" and covered with a non-conductive “radome" to keep the weather out. There in that invisible compartment, the antenna connects to each of the radio systems with coaxial feed cables. In more advanced designs, the conformal antenna and the various telecommunications radios are integrated into one unit to form a conformal smart antenna. This saves cost and improves the reliability of the entire system.
HARMAN is leading the field in the automotive sector with its conformal antenna. It can already accommodate up to 14 individual antennas in one compact package. It can normally be located in the roof or rear deck. The conformal antenna provides gain and directionality, while delivering performance and the isolation necessary for many radio systems to operate together. “It's completely unobtrusive and allows designers to retain sleek exterior lines," says Sundaram. “And with energy consumption or electric range in mind, it's also very good for aerodynamics."
Already prepared for future 5G communications systems, HARMAN's conformal and smart antennas support a wide range of communications systems. This includes V2X (vehicle-to-everything) to facilitate numerous communication, informational and remote diagnostics services. These types of services are rapidly becoming a crucial part of the customer experience, as well as pivotal to ADAS and semi-autonomous functionality.
Earlier this year, HARMAN's Conformal Antenna won the “M2M Innovative Solution of the Year" from IoT Breakthrough, an independent organization that recognizes the top companies, technologies and products in the global Internet of Things. On receiving the award, Vishnu Sundaram, said “Leveraging our close connection with Samsung and several OEM partners, the HARMAN team has designed an antenna solution that is compact, aesthetically pleasing, and future-proof."