Technology licensed by DIT Hothouse to semiconductor company DecaWave enabled the development of a customised antenna for DecaWave’s first miniature integrated circuit which was launched in 2013. On the back of this, DecaWave has since expanded its range of sensor chips that enable tagged objects to be located with precision levels of 10cm for indoor applications.
DecaWave first approached Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) after a presentation in 2007 that showcased research being conducted at DIT’s Antenna & High Frequency Research Centre (AHFRC) led by Professor Max Ammann. The AHFRC specialises in the analysis, design and measurement of antennas and associated devices for wireless communications and medical applications. With more than 15 years of applied research experience, the centre has built an international reputation for collaborative research with industry partners developing tailored, innovative solutions.
“Between 2005 and 2008 PhD student at the time, Dr. Matthias John, funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), was working on novel optimisation methods for ultra wideband (UWB) printed antennas. This work was refined for time domain applications, such as those used by DecaWave, by another PhD student Dr. Antoine Dumoulin between 2010 and 2011,” said Professor Ammann.
“The accuracy (resolution) of a Real Time Location System (positioning system) such as the one DecaWave has developed is based on time measurements. The distance is calculated by measuring time of flight. This is done by sending a pulse. Any distortion to this pulse can degrade the accuracy so the antenna is ‘optimised in time domain’, which means it does not distort the pulse.”
Dr. Patrick McEvoy, also from the AHFRC, presented “Antenna Challenges for Wireless Sensor Networks” in June 2007 at an Enterprise Ireland-sponsored event on Wireless Sensor Networks (WiSen) Research in Ireland. “The presentation included performance analysis of a UWB antenna optimised for frequency domain performance,” said Professor Ammann.
“After the presentation, DecaWave approached the AHRFC, given that its anticipated ScenSor chip design would need advanced antenna performance to enable fine-resolution accuracy in its location system,” he said. “The discussions with DecaWave complemented the next phase of work by DIT as we explored time domain optimisation with proof-of-concept grant support from Enterprise Ireland valued at €106,000.”
The next phase of collaborative research was funded through Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation Partnership Programme. “A follow-up Innovation Partnership led to the alignment of the legacy research with antenna designs to enable DecaWave to get to market with system demos of their product,” said Professor Ammann. “It takes some time to align the legacy research conducted in the lab with the practical solutions required by a company.”
DIT researchers worked with engineers from DecaWave over five years on the customised antenna. Eight years after first contact, the collaborative research partnership between DIT and DecaWave continues to thrive.
The delivery of time-optimised antennas enabled DecaWave to demonstrate its communication-location ScenSor chip system, which has a wide range of potential applications across industries where items need to be located and tracked, including manufacturing, electronic point-of-sale (ePOS) and retail, building automation, transport, inventory and supply chain management.
“At DIT, we were able to refine our understanding of the DecaWave chip’s system performance and offer advice on antenna integration,” said Professor Ammann. “DIT was also able to support design integration undertaken by DecaWave customers who were evaluating solutions and developing proprietary systems,” he said.
Since launching its first sensor chip two years ago, DecaWave has gone on to further develop its wireless technology platform and build its capability to design highly customised chips. The company expects rapid growth in demand for its products by developers creating applications for the Internet of Things (IoT), the expanding network of objects that use embedded technology to communicate and interact with the environment via the Internet.
DIT researchers have gained valuable experience through the project. “Collaborative research with industry is useful for us because we’re primarily research focussed and it’s very helpful for us to learn what companies need,” said Professor Ammann. “We learned new skills in having to apply the state-of-the-art antenna technology to DecaWave’s product and this collaboration has also raised our profile amongst DecaWave’s clients.”
DIT Hothouse became involved once AHFRC researchers had held preliminary technical discussions with DecaWave. “While the technical experts got on with the research, Dr Andy Gray, the Senior Licensing Executive in DIT Hothouse at the time, completed analysis to establish how the products might transfer to market,” said Professor Ammann.
“DIT Hothouse developed an excellent working relationship with DecaWave’s chief executive Ciaran O’Connell and the rest of the company’s management team to explore appropriate business models likely to best exploit the antenna technology.”
Dr. Amman said the collaborative research process that took place over five years (2008-2013) supported DIT and DecaWave in forging a strong, robust relationship. The two organisations continue to work together as research partners. “We also gained several insights about licensing technology for commercial development. For instance, while research-led development can follow PhD work, it is best disconnected from PhD studentships to ensure that commercial targets are given appropriate focus,” he said. “It can be beneficial to minimise mutually dependent steps to ensure that start-ups and academic research centres have adequate freedom to deliver on targets. Timelines and priorities can change rapidly in each organisation.”
When it came to negotiating the commercial licence, DIT Hothouse came up with business models in conjunction with DecaWave and Enterprise Ireland which grant-aided the project. “Through DIT Hothouse, a decision was made to cover some of the development and anticipated production costs and to use some funds to cover future non-exclusive exploitation of the antenna technology, which meant we could licence the technology to other companies as well,” said Dr. Amman.
DIT students, lecturers and staff with potentially license-able intellectual property are invited to consider the following guidelines: 1. Contact DIT Hothouse early in the process to validate your proposal and help you complete an Invention Disclosure Form. 2. CollaboratewithDITHothouse toidentify where the best market exploitation opportunities lie and establish the scope of a potential licence agreement. 3. Consider all potential market opportunities including direct, related and unrelated commercial applications. 4. Assign your invention over to DIT Hothouse and allow them to help develop, market and commercialise your technology. 5. Assist DIT Hothouse with their commercialisation efforts by making yourself available to meet interested companies and support patent and funding applications for your technology. 6. When a licensee has been identified, allow DIT Hothouse to negotiate on your behalf and support them as much as possible. This is in your own interests as DIT inventors receive up to 75% of licence revenues!