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Beam steering is the focused direction of a radiation pattern. This can be accomplished by controlling the elements used to generate the pattern to point it in a specific direction, and create a narrower beam for information transmission. There are a number of settings where beam steering can be useful, including radio transmissions and the control of optical devices. In systems that don’t natively support this feature, it may be possible to install control software and components to make it work.
Light, ultrasound vibrations, radio, and sound itself are all examples of radiation which can be subjected to beam steering. In an optical system, the refractive index of the lens and components can be changed to shift the direction of the beam. Rather than emitting a broad sweep of infrared light to search for devices, for example, a computer could lock down on a specific device and narrow down to a beam. The beam steering can increase efficiency and reduce the rate of interference and data loss.
With other types of radiation, a variety of tools can be used to control the shape and direction of the beam to focus it. These can include mechanical components like antennae that can be adjusted to focus the beam. It may also be possible to change the frequency. In applications like speaker installation, technicians may need to consider the way multiple beams could interact when they set up a system and use beam steering to position the speakers for optimal sound.
It can be difficult to strike a balance when it comes to efficiency and beam steering. The controls needed to focus the beam can eat up as much energy as a broad transmission, making it a wash in terms of device efficiency. Smaller and more efficient microcontrollers can help developers create systems that are able to focus their beams while still operating highly efficiently to minimize energy loss and radiation scatter at the same time.
This technology can be particularly important with therapeutic radiation used in activities like cancer therapy and laser surgery. Care providers want to be sure the beam is very precisely targeted on the patient to limit collateral damage. Using models of the patient, they can determine where the beam should be directed, and use a computer program to control the beam steering. This ensures that patients receiving treatments like radiation therapy don’t experience unnecessary scatter that might damage tissues outside the target area.