Smart Surfaces

Intelligent and instantly reconfigurable surfaces that enhance diverse kinds of wireless communications

Instead of changing the ways in which the wireless endpoints (mobiles, base stations) behave, our smart surface research is exploring ways of changing the perceived channel along the wireless link to create more favorable conditions for wireless communication, at microwave up to millimeter-wave frequencies.

KC measurement

[Image credit: Princeton School of Engineering and Applied Sciences]

Relevant Publications

This paper presents Monolith, a high bitrate, low- power, metamaterials surface-based Orbital Angular Momentum (OAM) MIMO multiplexing design for rank deficient, free space wireless environments. Leveraging ambient signals as the source of power, Monolith backscatters these ambient signals by modulating them into several orthogonal beams, where each beam carries a unique OAM. We provide insights along the design aspects of a low-power and programmable metamaterials- based surface. Our results show that Monolith achieves an order of magnitude higher channel capacity than traditional spatial MIMO backscattering networks.


Mobile operators are poised to leverage millimeter wave technology as 5G evolves, but despite efforts to bolster their reliability indoors and outdoors, mmWave links remain vulnerable to blockage by walls, people, and obstacles. Further, there is significant interest in bringing outdoor mmWave coverage indoors, which for similar reasons remains challenging today. This paper presents the design, hardware implementation, and experimental evaluation of mmWall, the first electronically almost-360 degree steerable metamaterial surface that operates above 24 GHz and both refracts or reflects incoming mmWave transmissions. Our metamaterial design consists of arrays of varactor-split ring resonator unit cells, miniaturized for mmWave. Custom control circuitry drives each resonator, overcoming coupling challenges that arise at scale. Leveraging beam steering algorithms, we integrate mmWall into the link layer discovery protocols of common mmWave networks. We have fabricated a 10 cm by 20 cm mmWall prototype consisting of a 28 by 76 unit cell array, and evaluate in indoor, outdoor-to-indoor, and multi-beam scenarios. Indoors, mmWall guarantees 91% of locations outage-free under 128-QAM mmWave data rates and boosts SNR by up to 15 dB. Outdoors, mmWall reduces the probability of complete link failure by a ratio of up to 40% under 0-80% path blockage and boosts SNR by up to 30 dB.

The first low earth orbit satellite networks for internet service have recently been deployed and are growing in size, yet will face deployment challenges in many practical circumstances of interest. This paper explores how a dual-band, elec- tronically tunable smart surface can enable dynamic beam alignment between the satellite and mobile users, make service possible in urban canyons, and improve service in rural areas. Our design is the first of its kind to target dual channels in the Ku radio frequency band with a novel dual Huygens resonator design that leverages radio reciprocity to allow our surface to simultaneously steer energy in the satellite uplink and downlink directions, and in both reflective and transmissive modes of operation. Our surface, Wall-E, is designed and evaluated in an electromagnetic simulator and demonstrates 94% transmission efficiency and a 85% reflection efficiency, with at most 6 dB power loss at steering angles over a 150 degree field of view for both transmission and reflection. With 75𝑐𝑚2 surface, our link budget calculations predict 4 dB and 24 dB improvement in the SNR of a link entering the window of a rural home in comparison to the free-space path and brick wall penetration, respectively.

Small IoT devices deployed in challenging locations suffer from uneven 3D coverage in complex environments. This work optimizes indoor coverage with LAVA, a Large Array of Vanilla Amplifiers. LAVA is a standard-agnostic cooperative mesh of elements, i.e., RF devices each consisting of several switched input and output antennas connected to fixed-gain amplifiers. Each LAVA element is further equipped with rudimentary power sensing to detect nearby transmissions. The elements report power readings to the LAVA control plane, which then infers active link sessions without explicitly interacting with the endpoint transmitter or receiver. With simple on-off control of amplifiers and antenna switching, LAVA boosts passing signals via multi hop amplify-and-forward. LAVA explores a middle ground between smart surfaces and physical-layer relays. Multi-hopping over short inter-hop distances exerts more control over the end-to-end trajectory, supporting fine-grained coverage and spatial reuse. Ceiling testbed results show throughput improvements to individual Wi-Fi links by 50% on average and up to 100% at 15 dBm transmit power (193% on average, up to 8x at 0 dBm). ZigBee links see up to 17 dB power gain. For pairs of co-channel concurrent links, LAVA provides average per-link throughput improvements of 517% at 0 dBm and 80% at 15 dBm.

To support faster and more efficient networks, mobile operators and service providers are bringing 5G millimeter wave (mmWave) networks indoors. However, due to their high directionality, mmWave links are extremely vulnerable to blockage by walls and human mobility. To address these challenges, we exploit advances in artificially-engineered metamaterials, introducing a wall-mounted smart metasurface, called mmWall, that enables a fast mmWave beam relay through the wall and redirects the beam power to another direction when a human body blocks a line-of-sight path. Moreover, our mmWall supports multiple users and fast beam alignment by generating multi-armed beams. We sketch the design of a real-time system by considering (1) how to design a programmable, metamaterials-based surface that refracts the incoming signal to one or more arbitrary directions, and (2) how to split an incoming mmWave beam into multiple outgoing beams and arbitrarily control the beam energy between these beams. Preliminary results show the mmWall metasurface steers the outgoing beam in a full 360-degrees, with an 89.8% single-beam efficiency and 74.5% double-beam efficiency.