Patch Antennas for UAV & AGV

Patch antennas are compact, planar antennas commonly used in unmanned and autonomous systems for wireless communication and sensing purposes. Patch antennas consist of a metallic patch placed over a grounded substrate, functioning efficiently at microwave frequencies. Their low-profile design and directional radiation characteristics make them ideal for integration into small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), autonomous ground vehicles (AGVs), and other autonomous platforms, facilitating reliable and high-speed data exchange in diverse applications ranging from remote sensing to real-time navigation and control.
Overview Patch Antennas for UAV & AGV
By Mike Ball Last updated: May 16th, 2024

Patch antennas, also known as microstrip or planar antennas, are a form of antenna consisting of two sheets of metal, one acting as a ground plane, with a dielectric made of a material such as ceramic.

The antenna needs to be designed in such a way that the length is close to half the wavelength of the desired radio waves. As wavelength and frequency are related, this means that patch antennas are practical for picking up frequencies that would not require the dimensions to be too large.

With this in mind, patch antennas can be used for a variety of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and robotics applications. These include radio communications for drone command and control as well as video and payload data transmission, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and GNSS/GPS navigation.

Directional & Phased Array

Horizontally Polarized Directional Patch Antenna by Southwest Antennas

Horizontally Polarized Directional Patch Antenna by Southwest Antennas

Patch antennas are directional in nature, meaning that they need to be pointed in the direction of the corresponding transmitter or receiver for maximum gain. They may be linearly or circularly polarized.

Multiple patch antennas can be combined to form a phased array antenna that uses electronic beam steering to effectively track and maintain line of sight with a transmission or reception target. This is particularly advantageous for drones, which may be constantly moving, changing direction, and performing dynamic flight maneuvers.

Low-SWaP Design

Thanks to their flat low-profile construction and relatively low weight, patch antennas can be highly suitable for low-SWaP (size, weight and power) drone designs, and are less likely to snag on obstacles compared to other antenna designs.

Drone patch antennas can also be constructed directly onto a PCB (printed circuit board), allowing them to fit easily into space-constrained designs.