drone research (Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com)

Testbed for 5G-powered drones coming to North Carolina

To ensure 5G-powered drones and autonomous vehicles can be effectively integrated into smart city operations, the National Science Foundation selected the Raleigh and Cary, N.C., area to host the Aerial Experimentation and Research Platform for Advanced Wireless.

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AERPAW aims to accelerate the integration of unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace and enable new features for UAS platforms, such as flying base stations for rapidly deployable wireless connectivity, NSF officials said. As part of this effort, AERPAW will develop a software-defined, reproducible and open-access advanced wireless platform with production-like networking and features that allow robust experimentation.

North Carolina State University will lead AERPAW research, working closely with wireless researchers at Mississippi State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Indiana's Purdue University and the University of South Carolina, as well as the Town of Cary, City of Raleigh and N.C. Department of Transportation. The Wireless Research Center, based in Wake Forest, N.C., will help manage the deployment of the wireless testbed and provide AERPAW users with access to one of the nation’s largest internet-of-things communities. More than 50 industry partners have signed on.

"By enabling experiments that consider three-dimensional, highly mobile and diverse scenarios, AERPAW will be critically important for enhancing wireless networking capabilities in our communities, and for furthering the development of innovative new applications that will improve civic services and citizen safety, said Erwin Gianchandani, NSF acting assistant director for computer and information science and engineering.

On the AERPAW platform, nodes will be mobile and will transmit and receive radio waves from user devices while moving. In the aftermath of a hurricane when existing cellular networks may be damaged, for example, aerial base stations can position themselves to provide the best wireless coverage to victims and first responders who would otherwise have no cellular connectivity.

“On the AERPAW platform, drones and 5G are integrated to be mutually beneficial,” says NC State Vice Chancellor for Information Technology Marc Hoit. “Drones are supporting 5G by providing increased coverage and connectivity; and 5G is supporting drones by providing improved signals and location data.”

Drones will not be the only mobile nodes. Researchers will put 5G equipment on cars, trucks, buses, golf carts and rovers to enable vehicle-to-vehicle communications for autonomous driving and improved safety.

The various research partners will investigate wireless applications for situational awareness, broadband connectivity, airspace access, systems safety, energy efficiency, privacy and security, along with multi-dimensional  resource, network and trajectory management in mobile environments.

Research resulting from the AERPAW platform may power advanced wireless networks that allow first responders and drones to share real-time data during emergencies. It will also help drone pilots fly beyond line of sight, allowing for improved air traffic control and help detect unauthorized drones based on their signals.

AERPAW is the latest 5G testbed to be funded through the NSF's Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research program. PAWR testbeds have already been established in New York City and Salt Lake City. New York was chosen to explore ultra-high bandwidth, low-latency wireless capabilities in a densely populated one-square-mile area of West Harlem where tightly packed buildings can pose a challenge  to small-cell signals. Researchers use the platform to explore millimeter-wave radio communications and dynamic optical switching technologies.

The Salt Lake City testbed offers an environment for conducting dynamic spectrum testing across several business districts and a wide swath of spectrum bands. While it will enable wireless research across many technical areas, the Utah site offers specialized capabilities for dynamic spectrum sharing and advanced wireless antenna technologies. Its inland location, away from the coastal U.S., ensures no interference from the Navy's use of the spectrum, which up until this week was a critical stumbling block.

On Sept. 16, the Federal Communications Commission approved a spectrum-sharing arrangement in which Citizens Broadband Radio Service users will share frequency allocations with incumbent Defense Department users' shipborne radar applications.

FCC officials also announced that New York City and Salt Lake City would host the agency's first two Innovation Zones -- city-scale test beds for advanced wireless communications and network research, including 5G networks.

These wireless technology test beds extend the geographic areas in which already-licensed experimental program licensees can conduct experiments to develop new technologies and services while protecting incumbent services against harmful interference. This initiative allows experimental program license holders which are licensed to operate elsewhere to also use the New York City and Salt Lake City Innovation Zones.

The National Science Foundation’s Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research program proposed the two Innovation Zones, saying they “will enable experimental exploration of robust new wireless devices, communication techniques, networks, systems, and services that will revolutionize the nation's wireless ecosystem, thereby enhancing broadband connectivity, leveraging the emerging Internet of Things (IoT), and sustaining US leadership and economic competitiveness for decades to come,” according to an FCC statement.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at smiller@gcn.com or @sjaymiller.

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