To prepare for 5G wireless communication systems, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers are pushing the boundaries of antenna measurement techniques.

According to NIST, “Future 5G systems will operate at higher frequencies and offer more than 100 times the data-carrying capacity of today's cellphones, while connecting billions of mobile broadband users in complex, crowded signal environments.”

To prepare for 5G tech, two robotic arms helm NIST’s new Large Antenna Positioning System (LAPS). Together they’ll position adaptable antennas situated on base stations, which will deal with signals traveling from various devices.  

"Measurements of antenna signals are a great use for robotics," says Jeff Guerrieri, NIST electronics engineer. "The robotic arms provide antenna positioning that would be constrained by conventional measurement systems."

One robot stays in a fixed position, while the other is situated on a large, linear rail slide. To prevent machinery collisions and ensure the well-being of human operators, LAPS’ safety unit includes preventative radar technology.

LAPS has the ability to test transmissions between antennas located on speedy mobile devices. This capability requires coordination amid communication signals and robot motion. The dual-robot system will also shed light on interference problems caused by growing signal density.

To further support 5G developments, LAPS features flexible scan geometries, increased mobile measurement accuracy, and cellphone beam tracking.

According to NIST, “…the ultimate goal for the LAPS is to perform dynamic, over-the-air tests of future 5G communication systems. Initial validation shows that basic mechanical operation of the LAPS is within the specified design tolerances for still and moving tests to at least 30 GHz.”

Currently, the research team is still validating LAPS’ performance with ongoing experiments.

Figure 1: NIST's LAPS system, featuring two robotic arms. (Image Credit: Burrus/NIST)