Current discussions on the sixth Generation (6G) of wireless communications are envisioning future networks as a unified communication, sensing, and computing platform that intelligently enables diverse services, ranging from immersive to mission critical applications. The recently conceived concept of the smart radio environment, enabled by Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces (RISs), contributes towards this intelligent networking trend, offering programmable propagation of information-bearing signals, which can be jointly optimized with transceiver operations. Typical RIS implementations include metasurfaces with nearly passive meta-atoms, allowing to solely reflect the incident wave in an externally controllable way. However, this purely reflective nature induces significant challenges in the RIS orchestration from the wireless network. For example, channel estimation, which is essential for coherent communications in RIS-empowered wireless networks, is quite challenging with the available RIS designs. This article introduces the concept of Hybrid reflecting and sensing RISs (HRISs), which enables metasurfaces to reflect the impinging signal in a controllable manner, while simultaneously sense a portion of it. The sensing capability of HRISs facilitates various network management functionalities, including channel estimation and localization. We discuss a hardware design for HRISs and detail a full-wave proof-of-concept. We highlight their distinctive properties in comparison to reflective RISs and active relays, and present a simulation study evaluating the HRIS capability for performing channel estimation. Future research challenges and opportunities arising from the concept of HRISs are presented.
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|Published - 10 Apr 2021