HELSINKI, Finland – Your future antenna could stretch like the neck of a giraffe, bend like a blade of grass, or pass overhead in a low-flying object.
“At the moment antennas are like trains – they serve mass communications in limited locations. In the future antennas will be more like personal communications – like a car. They will be closer to people and adapting to their communication needs.”
Ossi Pöllänen is a Senior Consultant in Technology Roadmapping for Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), a company for network equipment and infrastructure. His dream is to turn a dull piece of industrial design – the antenna – into a visible and user-friendly tool that might be differentiated by movement, material and texture.
If your antenna could talk, Pöllänen would like it to say:
“I enable your connection. I’m friendly, I’m not an ugly duckling.”
Until recently antenna design was held back by logistical constraints. Current antennas have a white plastic front about 20 cm wide housed in an aluminum frame that is about two meters tall – and are installed in high-up locations.
But last year Nokia Siemens Network created the ‘active antenna’ where a small base station is built into the antenna, and information is controlled via servers. ‘Active antennas’ have several benefits, including saving energy by reacting dynamically and intelligently to user needs – depending on how many people are using the network, and what they are doing.
The new ‘active antenna’ has abolished old design constraints, and the need to for high-up, out of sight, locations. Antennas will be as common, Pöllänen believes, as home wifi and broadband boxes – but hopefully a lot more exciting.
“I want antennas that people would even like to see inside buildings, or hanging on their wall” Pöllänen says.
That’s why NSN is participating in World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 with Nokia and students from Aalto University: To design the antenna of the future.
Five inter-disciplinary teams of Masters students from Aalto have been working on designs for the antenna of 2020. The project brief included creating an iconic antenna of the future that we don’t need to hide, as well as anticipating how an antenna would look in different places and fit in different environments. Students also have to consider practical issues like weather proofing, flexibility and production costs.
Although the winning concept has yet to be revealed, ideas for the urban environment of the future include flying antennas, and antennas that move like blades of grass.
“The students come from technology, business and art and design,” says Professor Kalevi Ekman who has been leading the project at Aalto University. What they offer are their unlimited perspectives. They’re not engineers who know that everything has been tried before. They don’t know that things are not possible.”
Although some concepts, like the ‘flying antenna’ are truly radical, Ekman says other concepts have challenged his thinking, including how to place antennas on city streets, how to camouflage them like “animals in the jungle”, or incorporate lighting.
An ‘active antenna’ could be round and symmetrical, or double-up as large panel, like a painting. It could be a thin spire, or move with the wind, Ossi Pöllänen says. He hopes that in the future they can be part of an urban environment driven by “interaction, not isolation,” and be appreciated for fulfilling their true purpose – enabling communication.
These illustrations were designed for Conversations by Damilola Odusote, and are not part of the competition.