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Wireless Graduate Student Team Advances in the 2013 DARPA Spectrum Challenge

Christine Broadbent Landaw • DATE: December 13, 2013

The DARPA Spectrum Challenge is a competition to find strategies for successful communication in extreme environments that may contain significant interference and disruptions. The competition consists of two stages:  a competitive mode and a cooperative mode. 

The goal of the competitive mode is to successfully transmit data regardless of the presence of intentional interference and other transmissions. Such a scenario is similar to high priority communications that depend on successful and timely transmissions when a noisy environment can be expected.

The cooperative mode has multiple teams working together to transmit data without previously establishing agreed upon strategies. This scenario is similar to disaster relief situations where a centralized communication infrastructure may not be present and multiple networks may need to share the available spectrum in a decentralized fashion. One winning team could win as much as $150,000.

DARPA Spectrum Challenge
Left to Right: Luo, Cai, Zhang, and Nie

The DARPA Spectrum Challenge began in February, 2013. There was a qualifying process including three hurdles in February and March. Graduate students Zhanwei Sun, Zhenhua Gong, and Zhen Tong contributed most to the qualifying process. The team’s radio worked well during initial testing but failed in the qualifying test. The team members changed and the new team consisted of Ding Nie, Mingming Cai, Fan Zhang and Chao Luo (team photo at left). This new team attempted to move forward with the completion and vie for one of the three wildcard slots. From May to August the new team worked on the challenge full time meeting weekly with Drs. Hochwald and Laneman to discuss their progress. During this period the example codes of the GNU Radio has been improved and developed specifically for the Challenge. Finally, the team’s competitive radio ranked first in the wildcard selection round. The DARPA Spectrum Challenge final event is tentatively scheduled for the week of March 17, 2014.