Reliable wireless communications today requires careful allocation of specific portions of the electromagnetic spectrum to individual radio networks. While pre-allocating spectrum is effective in benign environments, radios remain vulnerable to inadvertent interference from other emitters and intentional jamming by adversaries.
On March 19-20, 2014, 15 teams from around the country demonstrated new ways to help overcome these challenges by participating in the final event of the DARPA Spectrum Challenge—a national competition to develop advanced radio techniques capable of communicating in congested and contested electromagnetic environments without direct coordination or spectrum preplanning. After two intense days of competition, teams from Tennessee Technological University and Georgia Tech Research Institute and an independent team of individuals emerged as the overall winners, earning a total of $150,000 in prize money.
“The sophistication of the solutions that the teams developed really impressed us,” said Yiftach Eisenberg, DARPA program manager. “The teams showed that radios can learn to coexist and communicate reliably by autonomously sensing and adapting to congested electromagnetic environments—paving the way for new spectrum-sharing applications for the Department of Defense and commercial industry.”
The final event took place at DARPA’s offices in Arlington, Va. Eighteen teams had previously participated in the Spectrum Challenge preliminary event in September 2013. Three teams that participated in the preliminaries were unable to complete their ambitious designs in time for the final event. The competitors at the final event represented the top 15 teams out of the 90 teams that initially registered. Academic institutions from around the country comprised 12 of the 15 teams, while the remaining three teams were individual radio hobbyists and practitioners working on their own time.
Both the preliminary and final events included two separate tournaments, each with its own goals:
As in the preliminaries, DARPA provided all teams with the same radio hardware to ensure that each team would win or lose based on its software algorithms alone. All the matches again occurred on the ORBIT testbed at Rutgers University’s WINLAB, which streamed the proceedings live to big screens in DARPA’s conference center, where contestants as well as representatives from across the government and industry eagerly watched the event unfold.
“The Spectrum Challenge exceeded expectations for stimulating new technologies and attracting new talent,” said Dan Kaufman, director of DARPA’s Information Innovation Office, which oversaw the Spectrum Challenge. “As competitors alternately battled over and worked to share the spectrum, it was easy to see how these advanced capabilities could prove invaluable in a wide range of military and civilian applications that seek to maximize the value of this precious and finite resource.”
“It was immensely satisfying to see the enthusiasm of the participants and how quickly they grasped the complexities of operating in dynamic spectrum environments,” Eisenberg said. “We want to continue to work with industry and academia to build upon the achievements we have seen so far.”
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