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DARPA hosts software defined radio hackfests

Next Big Future

Unlike conventional radios, which are designed to work with specific waveforms (AM and FM, cellular, digital TV, and WiFi, for example), software defined radios can send and receive many different waveforms, and toggle between them on the fly by means of software code that defines their behavior at any particular moment. As such, they have the electronic guts and, increasingly, the artificial intelligence needed to navigate and even coordinate activity at the interface of the physical and digital domains. What is still needed, and what DARPA is aiming to energize, is a community of SDR users to map out and get comfortable within this fast-evolving landscape, and pave the way to a seamless and safe cyberphysical world.

DARPA has aa multi-city “roadshow” to inform the technology community about how DARPA is embracing and preparing for this coming confluence. It began in February with an SDR hackfest in Brussels that focused on interference issues in commercial communication. In March, at a gathering of radio engineers known as IEEE DySPAN in Baltimore, he and fellow DARPA program manager Paul Tilghman—both in the Agency’s Microsystems Technology Office—ran “The Battle of the ModRecs”—short for Modulation Recognitions. There, competitors were tasked with identifying and characterizing simulated and randomly timed radio emissions of some 20 different waveforms. This ability is a first step in managing the electromagnetic spectrum in the far more efficient ways that future demand will call for.

Throughout May—as a buildup to a final event in November, the DARPA Bay Area Hackfest—Rondeau will continue his roadshow, which will include hyperlocal visits to small hacker and maker spaces as well as high-profile keynote addresses to the SDR community. On May 9, 10, 11, and 12, respectively, he will visit maker and hacker spaces in Niwot, Colorado; Vista, California; Austin, Texas; and Santa Clara, California. On May 20, Rondeau will give a keynote address at the massive Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo, California. His team will be working out additional roadshow stops as well. The latest roadshow schedule and Rondeau’s blog entries about his visits are available at the DARPA SDR Hackfest web site. It’s all part of DARPA’s and Rondeau’s commitment to work with a wider diversity of research and development performers in the science, engineering, and technology communities.

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