Vanderbilt Researchers Win First Round of DARPA Spectrum Sharing Competition
Wednesday, February 07, 2018 | Comments

A Vanderbilt team of researchers and alumni, dubbed MarmotE, won the first round in mid-December of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Spectrum Collaboration Challenge (SC2), leading the top 10 teams, each awarded $750,000 in prize money.

This was the first event of the three-year-long tournament. Round two is set for December 2018. The ultimate SC2 winners will walk away in 2019 with $2 million in prize money.

The tournament is designed to generate new wireless paradigms and access strategies in which radio networks enhanced with artificial intelligence (AI) will autonomously collaborate and reason about how to share the increasingly congested electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. The winning teams demonstrated software defined radio (SDR) designs that were most effective at collaborating with competing radio designs to jointly optimize spectrum usage.

To help better manage the finite spectrum resources, SC2 aims to create a more nimble and efficient process by applying autonomy to spectrum management.

“The concept of dynamic spectrum access isn’t new but previous attempts have focused only on isolated environments,” said Paul Tilghman, DARPA program manager behind SC2. “With this challenge, we are attempting to achieve autonomous spectrum management at scale. We believe the key to doing this is to have the networks actually work with each other, or collaborate, and use autonomy to determine not just the best use of the spectrum for one system but the best use of spectrum for all systems. Our goal is to maximize the overall utility of spectrum across all different networks and wavelengths that are simultaneously operating together.”

The competing teams faced fluctuating bandwidths and interference from other competitors as well as DARPA designed bots that tested and challenged their radio designs. Each team’s radio performance was scored based on its collaborative spectrum sharing abilities.

Each of the 19 competing teams qualified for the competition by demonstrating that their radio network could transmit wireless data in an interference-free environment. The competition found that when two radio networks were asked to share the spectrum, the top performing teams were successful at adapting their spectrum use so that both networks could successfully transmit with minimal interference. Fully autonomous sharing of the spectrum with three simultaneous wireless technologies, however, remains a difficult challenge.

“When three different technologies attempt to coexist simultaneously there is a smaller set of overlapping strategies that will fulfill each individual radio network’s needs. This causes conflict and requires a higher degree of agility and reasoning, which will be required to be successful in the next phase,” said Tilghman.

The next preliminary event will further challenge competitors with an interference environment beyond what existing commercial and military radios can handle — upping the number of simultaneous wireless network types from three to five and increasing the total number of radios from 15 to 50.

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