The October 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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There was an interesting story by the AFP over the weekend about the first US Federal Communications Commission certified GPS-enabled shoes that have been developed by GTX Corp. for use in tracking people suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. The shoes, which will cost $300, have the GPS system embedded in their heel.

Buyers of the shoes, the company says, will be able to download an app which will allow them to track the shoes "... using the GPS or get an alert if the person wanders out of a pre-set safe zone."

According to the AFP article:

"... more than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's, a number expected to quadruple in the coming years. [Some] 60 percent of sufferers will wander and become lost and up to half of those lost who are not found within 24 hours may die, from dehydration, exposure or injury."

The first 3,000 pairs of shoes will be available this month and will be sold through Aetrex Worldwide.

Obviously, there are many other potential users of GPS-enabled shoes, from runners to hikers to small children, who were the original target market, GTX says.

GTX's GPS-enabled shoes join a wide variety of personal GPS tracking systems now on the market.

In a related "electronic clothing" story, the New York Times ran a piece a few weeks back about the progress being made on the use of so-called smart fabrics. According to the Times, steady progress is being made on developing everyday clothing that can act as an antenna cum phone. So, instead of talking into your shoe a la Maxwell Smart, you would talk into your shirt. The Times quotes Dr. John Volakis, director of the ElectroScience Laboratory at Ohio State University as saying:

"You won’t have to hold your cellphone to your ear. We’ll eliminate all that. It will be part of your attire."

A team at the ElectroScience Laboratory  has already "built antennas into a United States Army bulletproof vest last summer," the Times states.  The cost of the vests now run about $1,000, but that should come down as the vests go into mass production.

Right now the lab's focus is on developing an electricity conductible material - possibly out of carbon nanotubes and/or graphene - that is both soft and washable, the Times article states. I assume stylish is also somewhere on the list. The hope is to develop a suitable wired textile for general use in the next year or so.

Smart fabrics will make ubiquitous computing and mobile communications even more ubiquitous, if that is really possible. For according to a story at the Washington Post, there are now more cell phones and other mobile devices in operation in the US than there are residents. While there some 315 million people in the US, according to the wireless trade group CTIA there are some 327 million mobile devices currently hooked up to cellular networks.

And finally, according to this story at the Canberra Times, while the average Australian family owns six Internet-capable digital devices, on average two of them are not connected to the Internet. While the story laments that by not connecting these estimated 18 million devices to the Internet Australians are missing out on how "technology can enhance [their] lives," it just may be that Australians are paying for features and functionality that they do not really want or need.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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