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Depiction of Metamaterials Surface Antenna Technology receiving a signal on a plane. Credit: Intellectual Ventures

Is Nathan Myhrvold about to improve your in-flight broadband connection?

That’s one of the promises of a new type of antenna that Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures is developing, using synthetic substances known as metamaterials. The technology uses electronics to create a thin and lightweight antenna that can steers a radio-frequency beam on the fly, literally, to maintain a connection with communications satellite without the use of moving parts.

One goal is to give airplanes a means of receiving reliable broadband signals from satellites above, rather than depending on a network of cellular towers on the ground. Other uses envisioned by Intellectual Ventures include maritime and rail applications, and portable hotspots.

The Metamaterial Surface Antenna Technology was first unveiled earlier this year, but an article published this week by IEEE Spectrum provides more technical details on the project and its potential implications.

The article explains that similar technology is being used to create cloaking devices …

The subwavelength features of metamaterials produce electromagnetic properties not found in nature, bending optical and radio waves in ways once thought to be impossible. Metamaterial cloaking devices work by refracting light around an object, and the same wave-bending concepts can be used to steer beams from antennas.

Intellectual Ventures says it hopes to make the technology available by late 2014. Also see this video of the technology in action.

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