Metamaterials technology is an emerging field based on the development of tiny, man-made structures that at certain frequencies exhibit acoustic, electromagnetic or optical properties not found in nature.
These artificial structures can be made from microscopic bits of conventional metals and plastics that are carefully assembled in precise arrangements to affect light, sound or radio waves in unconventional ways.
In the field of aerospace and defense, metamaterials technology applications could range from novel antennas and sensors to smart structures and even invisibility cloaks.
Kymeta Corp. of Redmond, Wash., a technology start-up backed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, is using metamaterials technology to develop a portable satellite hotspot device to access high-speed Internet absent wifi or mobile broadband signals. The company also plans to leverage the coming wave of satellite-based Ka-band
broadband with a new fuselage-hugging surface antenna that has no moving parts, is roughly the size of a pizza box and uses only a tiny fraction of the power typically needed for phased-array antennas.
In the case of metasurface antennas, radio waves are propagated beneath a thin circuit board engraved with sub-wavelength elements that are arranged - or tuned -- to resonate at specific frequencies. As the waves pass under the surface, radiation is emitted in different directions based on the tuning of each element.
Today, metamaterials offer the near-tern potential for use in antennas and other practical applications. But the field is also being explored for use in the area of cloaking technologies, where the same wave-bending concept
may be applied to refract light or radar around an object, rendering it invisible.