Santa Clara University

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Designing for Soldier Safety

SCU engineering students use a variety of techniques for finding their senior projects; some choose to work on a problem that has been bugging them, some choose from a list of suggestions offered by their faculty advisor, but Jerrick Hayes, an electrical engineering transfer student, used a different approach. “I was looking for a project that was original and of a complexity that an undergraduate could take on with the help of advisors.” So he went trolling websites last summer and found an open solicitation on a government site to develop a body wearable radio direction finding antenna that would give soldiers the information they need to navigate while reducing the likelihood of detection.

Described in the solicitation as a “DF Mantenna,” the device would likely be a lightweight, one-size-fits-all vest that eliminates the need for raising an antenna while in a combat environment. The information received by the vest’s antenna array would be transmitted to a handheld device to allow covert direction finding.

Having recently studied antenna arrays with assistant professor Talal Al-Attar, Hayes immediately thought of an adaptation for a microchip patch to maximize the antenna’s inherent abilities. What really sealed the deal was seeing electrical engineering professor Tokunbo Ogunfunmi’s work listed as one of the reference materials on the solicitation. “Having taken classes with Dr. Ogunfunmi, I knew that with his help in the area of digital signal processing and with Dr. Al-Attar’s expertise in RF, this was a good project for someone like me to take on.” Dr. Al- Attar also enlisted the assistance of electrical engineering Ph.D. student Ben Horwath.

“We’re adapting patch antennas and modeling arrays that we hope to be capable of giving us the bandwidth we’re looking for while providing the directivity that we need. It is a challenge to get the microchip patch to resonate within the required 50-500 MHz bandwidth without taking up too much space as identical arrays need to be positioned on both the front and back of the vest to provide an accurate direction,” Hayes said.

Once the technology is designed, Hayes will write the proposal. “Working on a real problem for my Senior Design project was most attractive to me, and collaborating with Ben, Dr. Al-Attar, and Dr. Ogunfunmi has been a great experience; their leadership has maintained the focus of the design process. This is a good project; hopefully we can really make something out of it.”