What Would You Do With A Spray-On Antenna? Internet Everywhere, For One

A new product makes deploying an antenna as simple as spray painting. So how would you use this technology in your life?

This is part of Future Forward, a new, semi-regular series exploring how cutting-edge technologies might be applied.


The Problem
Antennas are pretty much always one of two things: bulky and effective, or small and prone to failure. Engineers have been brilliant about milking more and more from radio waves in our wireless spectrum, but despite developments like 4G and over-the-air HD broadcasting, our antennas are based upon antique technology. Dropped calls, fuzzy pictures: Some of it’s due to the nature of the frequencies themselves, but most of these issues could be fixed with better antennas.

The Breakthrough
A company called Chamtech has developed a nano-capacitor-infused spray, a very powerful antenna in a can. To deploy it, just spray.

The Claims

  • It can attach to almost any surface–buildings, road blocks, even trees.
  • It uses very little power and thereby puts out very little heat.
  • It has incredible range. An RFID chip, with a thin strip painted on the surface, went from transmitting 5′ to 700′. But a stock iPhone equipped with the technology would only go from poor to good (or good to great) reception.
  • Waterproof, it can transmit under water for 1 mile.

The Possibilities
If Chamtech’s claims prove true, it’s impossible to overstate the possibilities. So let’s go out on a limb for a moment and just assume it all works as advertised. With this magical antenna display, I’d like to propose a few dream products of my own:

The New Home Antenna Kit
Remember the ’70s, when every house on the block had a massive antenna on top? Cable and Internet has made them obsolete eyesores. The new home antenna could be painted in an inconspicuous place, like window frames or roof shingles, to amplify both over-the-air HD broadcasts and cell-phone signals. It might even replace a satellite dish. If you don’t want to connect your cell phone to a wire (a la landline) to boost the signal, no problem. The antenna could connect to something like a Wi-Fi transmitter for a wireless antenna boost.

Networked Scuba Goggles
Smaller electronics typically need cables to communicate underwater. But low-power, underwater transmission could reimagine a whole line of scuba products. Imagine a pair of video-equipped goggles. Divers could see real-time oxygen levels of their companions, and even transmit first-person video back to the surface in real time. Just because someone is underwater doesn’t need to mean they’re disconnected from the world above.


A Truly Omnipresent Internet
Even with 4G, we’re not always connected, especially in big cities. Traditional antenna towers have to negotiate a pathway of streets perpetually blocked by massive concrete structures. But a painted antenna could snake between the smallest alleys, creating an entire grid of wireless transmission that any cell phone can spot at any time. Google blanketed Mountain View in Wi-Fi. Now every city in the world could ostensibly do the same thing.

These are just a few of my ideas, but the neat thing about breakthrough technologies is that they have repercussions beyond any single person’s scope. So hopefully some of you will share your own wide-eyed ideas in the comments, and we find out this promising product actually works.

[Hat tip: CNET]


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach