DARPA picks 30 contenders to battle in wireless spectrum competition

DARPA $3.75M contest looks to bring AI to wireless spectrum provisioning


DARPA says there are now 30 contenders for its $3.75 million Spectrum Collaboration Challenge (SC2) whose goal is to get mobile devices more intelligent access to the ever-tightening wireless spectrum.

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The defense research agency last March announced Spectrum Collaboration Challenge and said the primary goal of the contest was to infuse radios with “advanced machine-learning capabilities so they can collectively develop strategies that optimize use of the wireless spectrum in ways not possible with today’s intrinsically inefficient approach of pre-allocating exclusive access to designated frequencies.”

DARPA said six of the chosen teams for the first preliminary competition earned their slots in the “Proposal Track,” which includes $500,000 of contract funding. Twenty-four teams, including all the individual contenders, are participating by way of the “Open Track,” which means they had to pass technical hurdles specified by SC2 organizers but will pay their own costs. A total of 113 candidates vied for a spot via the Open Track option.

“SC2 sets out to bring the software defined radio and artificial intelligence communities together to fundamentally rethink 100 years of spectrum practice, and tackle the original and enduring spectrum grand challenge: efficient coexistence of all wireless communications,” said Paul Tilghman, a program manager in DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office and administrator of the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge in a statement.

DARPA said the current practice of assigning fixed frequencies for various uses irrespective of actual, moment-to-moment demand is simply too inefficient to keep up with actual demand and threatens to undermine wireless reliability in the military as well as civilian applications, DARPA stated.

The challenge is expected to take advantage of recent significant progress in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning and spur new developments in those research domains, with potential applications in other fields where collaborative decision-making is critical,” DARPA stated.

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DARPA said it will build what it called the largest-of-its-kind wireless test bed – “the Colosseum” -- which will serve during and after the SC2 as a national asset for evaluating spectrum-sharing strategies, tactics, and algorithms for next-generation radio systems. The “Colosseum” will let researchers remotely conduct large-scale experiments with intelligent radio systems in realistic, user-defined RF environments, such as the wireless conditions of a busy city neighborhood or battle setting.

The 30 teams will now have to meet several requirements throughout the year to prepare for the Preliminary Event #1 Competition this December. A still-to-be specified number of top-performing teams in this first phase of the competition will receive $750,000 and will automatically proceed to the second phase of SC2, which will end with another similarly run preliminary competition in December 2018. The finale will take place at the end of 2019 with prizes of $2 million, $1 million, and $750 thousand going to the top three finishers, respectively.

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