This story was written by Erin Blasko and was originally published in the South Bend Tribune on Monday, March 20, 2017.
SOUTH BEND — The city of South Bend and Notre Dame Wireless Institute demonstrated the latest in wireless technology Monday as part of an effort to build a city-scale testbed here for advanced wireless research, including the next generation of Wi-Fi.
From the parking lot at O’Brien Recreation Center, researchers conducted a test involving a drone and a small-scale wireless network consisting of two separate antennae — one atop the center itself and one affixed to a nearby mobile research vehicle.
The test consisted of measuring the level of communication between the drone and network as part of an effort to better understand how future networks might best communicate with autonomous vehicles and drones.
The technology, known as MIMO, or multiple input, multiple output, is seen as the next logical step in the development of wireless technology for the operation of autonomous machines, including self-driving cars and self-flying drones.
The end goal is a network that can safely and seamlessly route and control multiple machines without human intervention.
“As far as we know, this is the first (network) of its kind,” said Nick Laneman, an electrical engineering and director of the Notre Dame Wireless Institute.
The city and university hope such tests help in their effort to secure federal funding for SBXG, a proposed city-scale test bed for cutting-edge wireless research, by demonstrating an ability to work together to rapidly design and deploy wireless technology throughout the city.
The National Science Foundation will begin accepting applications in June for its Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research program, which will award four $25 million grants to small U.S. cities to develop wireless test beds for academic and industry researchers.
The first of the winners will be announced in January.
Laneman said the city and university have identified other potential sources of funding for the project as well, “but this is the biggest one in the nearest term.”
City leaders believe the presence of a test bed here would attract researchers to the community, creating jobs and investment.
“If this is successful, you’ll start to see the wireless industry have more of a presence in South Bend,” said Santiago Garces, chief innovation office for the city.
The project also would include testing of future generations of mobile wireless networks. In fact, the “X” in SBXG is a variable representing future generations of wireless technology, from 5G to 6G and beyond.
“We believe South Bend is the perfect test bed for this technology,” South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said, noting the city’s size and complexity coupled with the existing presence of high-speed fiber-optic technology. “We’re in the hunt for this grant.”