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VisorSurf - A Hardware Platform for Software-driven Functional Metasurfaces

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - VISORSURF (VisorSurf - A Hardware Platform for Software-driven Functional Metasurfaces)

Reporting period: 2018-01-01 to 2019-06-30

"What if the laws of electromagnetism could be customized, rather than being simply adhered to? The VISORSURF project studies this direction, exhibiting paradigm shifting potential for wide range of applications. The project is producing a first-of-its kind material, the HyperSurface, which can sense electromagnetic waves impinging upon it and alter them in ways dictated by software.

A core concept of VISORSURF are the metasurfaces, a concept from Physics, which has recently enabled the realization of novel objects with engineered and even ""unnatural"" electromagnetic functionalities. VISORSURF introduces a new kind of networked metasurfaces that can host metasurface functionalities described in software, such as parametric wave steering, absorbing, filtering and polarizing. The HyperSurface is a merge of properly-designed metasurfaces and novel electronic nano-controllers, resulting in a reconfigurable metasurface, whose properties can be changed via a software interface. The controllers receive programmatic directives and perform simple alterations in the metasurface aspect of HyperSurfaces, adjusting their overall electromagnetic behavior and attaining the required high-level functionality.

From another innovative aspect, the project enables the translation of advanced concepts of Physics in software, which nowadays constitutes the “common language” for all scientific fields, promoting open-access to knowledge. Thus an additional ambition is to bring the physics behind metasurfaces into the realm of software developers, eventually treating the electromagnetic behavior of objects as an app, as shown in the attached Figure.

VISORSURF is a highly interdisciplinary project involving Physicists, Material Scientists, Electrical Engineers and Computer Scientists. The project is funded under the prestigious Future Emerging Technologies (FETOPEN-RIA) call of the European Union Horizon 2020 framework. VISORSURF underwent a highly selective review phase, with just 3.9% acceptance rate, and attracted a total budget of 5.7 million euros. The project was conceived and prepared by young researchers, and it involves renowned specialists across multiple disciplines. The consortium comprises six European research institutions and companies: the Foundation of Research and Technology Hellas (Coordinator), the University of Cyprus, the AALTO University of Finland, SignalGenerix Limited, a Cypriot innovation-oriented company, the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration, and the NaNoNetworking Center in Catalunya.

The committed researchers are actively developing the hardware as well as the software for the HyperSurfaces. The project is scheduled to conclude within 2020."
For Year 1, the project achieved its goals, which are summarized as follows:
1) Establish a cross-discipline understanding among the consortium partners.
2) Establish a design/implement/manufacture/evaluate workflow between the academic and industrial partners.
3) Derive an initial design of the HyperSurface hardware, including the metasurface substrate and the custom electronic controllers to be embedded within it.
4) Derive an initial design of the HyperSurface software, including:
4a. the programming interface to interact with the HyperSurface.
4b. the communication protocols to convey programmatic commands to the HyperSurface, and diffuse it to the electronic controllers within it.
5) Initiate the theoretic studies of the HyperSurface capabilities, decoupled from manufacturing restrictions.
6) Initiate the dissemination efforts, acquainting the academic world and the broader public with the novel HyperSurface concept.

For year 2, the project achieved the following goals, i.e.:
1) To refine the HyperSurface prototype design process, yielding high a wide tenability range in absorption and wave steering, while accommodating for the manufacturing processing.
2) Schedule some key intermediate prototypes, to gain valuable experience on critical aspects of the official project prototypes.
3) To manufacture a development-level prototype early on, and use it to complete the measurements testbed and test the developed software (EM API and Compiler).
4) To implement a complete version of the EM Compiler, which combines concepts of electromagnetism with computer science principles for transparent usage and interfacing with smart, connected systems.
5) To define the experimental setup specifications of the project's final demonstrator (EM absorber).
6) To showcase the Programmable Wireless Environment concept as a promising application of connected HyperSurfaces.
7) To study the scaling trends of HyperSurfaces in the pathway to determining the performance and cost of future ideal (autonomous, intelligent) realizations of the paradigm as opposed to the intended prototype.
Classic metasurfaces are functional media which have promising applications, yet they cannot react to environmental changes and
adapt themselves in a controllable manner. As an upshot, they cannot allow for point-to-point or programmatic control, i.e. no interface,
means for automation and formal programming. Even at the level of plain, static metasurfaces, many significant configurations are
hindered by the lack of metasurface tuning competences and their limited working bandwidth, primarily attributed to the resonance
nature of their sub-wavelength building blocks. Presently, research acknowledges the need to attain tunable, switchable, nonlinear
and sensing functionalities at the metasurface level. However, there is no proposal for software-defined smart control or equivalent.

VISORSURF addresses the shortcomings of the literature and proposes true, software definition of the EM properties of a medium, allowing its interconnection to smart control loops in real-time.
VISORSURF is expected to allow software developers and engineers to design systems that contain the electromagnetic behavior of objects into their control loops, without required knowledge
of the underlying Physics. This evolution comes as a timely extension of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) concept. IoT constitutes a robust, complete hardware platform (hardware and full
software stack included) for connecting anything-to-anything, under a considerable range of conditions and use-cases: houses that perform
access control, unlocking/locking doors when the owner approaches, and regulating the room temperature, lights and music according to
his perceived mood; medical implants can calls the doctors if they shows signs of failure, long before the user notices, and more. Novel
IoT products are being released almost daily, at a trend that is expected to yield 20-30 billion connected IoT devices by 2020.
Software-defined metasurfaces can give the already successful IoT concept a new application field over the electromagnetic behavior
of objects. Coupled with related efforts seeking to provide control over mechanical properties, IoT can extend to IoM (Internet-of-Materials),
offering unprecedented capabilities.
The electromagnetic behavior of the HyperSurface can change through an app.