Monday 22 August 2022
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The School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) has received two grants from NASA that will position Oklahoma State University as a leader in the fields of next-generation communications and very large scale integrated circuit (VLSI) research .
Two research teams from ECE, housed in the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology, have received funding to build an outdoor test platform for next-generation communication systems, as well as funding to develop an open-source environment for design and construction of integrated circuits.
The next generation of communication test platform
The team of dr. Jeffrey Young, John O’Hara, Sabit Ekin and Wooyeol Choi received $1 million for their project: Versatile Experimental Platform for 6G and Beyond Communications and Sensing Innovations. Researchers will create a hybrid outdoor radio frequency, millimeter wave, terahertz and optical experimentation platform that will enable multifaceted experiments into 6G and beyond communications and sensor innovations. ECE has already invested approximately $2 million in 6G research, and team members have received numerous federal grants totaling millions of dollars to develop world-class fast-pulse and broadband continuous-wave communications and spectroscopy systems for the to develop indoors. However, this $1 million project will allow the team to develop and test new communication and sensor architectures that will be deployed in a real outdoor environment.
“This apparatus will give us the final tool we need to conduct any next-generation communications research, including propagation measurements, system architecture design and novel device design,” said Young, ECE’s leader. “OSU is emerging as the academic leader in this space because few institutions will have all of these assets and expertise under one roof.”
The team currently has access to state-of-the-art indoor testing equipment, but that represents a very controlled environment. The new platform will allow researchers to test hypotheses in a real-world environment by sending terahertz signals several kilometers that carry real-world data contain. The platform will establish OSU as one of the first research facilities with the capability to test in this type of environment.
“There are many visions for 6G communications,” said O’Hara. “But there are very few real solutions right now.”
Next-generation communication systems will have to face the challenge of wirelessly transmitting and receiving large amounts of information that is available in current communication platforms, such as e.g. As glass fibers can be found. The challenge is tantamount to “pushing flood water through a pinhole,” O’Hara said.
This is just one of the many obstacles the team will encounter as they delve deeper into real-world applications of next-generation communications research. The storage of data and the devices used to convert that data into a usable commodity are currently very specialized and very expensive. So how do you scale current “off-the-shelf” technologies to handle data bandwidth and still remain cost-effective? That question is at the heart of the research task, and the answer, according to O’Hara, has yet to be discovered. However, the team has some promising ideas to implement and develop that could accelerate the deployment of next-generation communications systems in the United States.
The team believes this next step in communications will have a significant impact on the ability to bring high-speed communications to rural communities that struggle to secure current communications networks, i.e. fiber optic communications, due to their location and the significant cost of installing them networks.
Research and testing of next-generation communications platforms is still in its infancy, but this project is likely to secure OSU and its ECE program as the leading research institution for the future of communications. “We will invest millions of dollars in this research,” O’Hara said. “It hasn’t been easy, but we will be among the best places in the world to test 6G communications.”
The future of integrated circuits
dr James Stine, Bingzhe Li, and John Hu received $1.2 million in research funding for their project entitled: RAFT (Rapid Assured Fully Transparent IC Physical Design Capability): Infrastructure, Tools & Techniques for the Design of Digital and Analog VLSI Silicon for Enabling Future Research and Innovation.
The overall goal of this project is to design an infrastructure called “RAFT” to revitalize the US’ ability to innovate and explore Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) design and empower a community of researchers and educators to innovate and participate Cutting-edge research topics in the field of integrated circuit (IC) design.
These researchers intend to empower the next generation of innovators to engage in microelectronics research by creating a portal to existing resources, new tools, designs and intellectual property. The IC design world is, up to this point, a very exclusive industrial area driven by a few key companies driving innovation in the field. RAFT hopes to reach a much larger community and give everyone from individuals interested in IC design to academic institutions access to some key design tools, manufacturing contacts and existing research that will fuel innovation from all sources .
NASA is the latest party interested in research, already receiving support from industry partners such as Google and SkyWater Technology, as well as academic institutions such as the University of Michigan and the University of California-San Diego. They are working to create an open access software suite and knowledge base that will be available to anyone interested in IC design, removing some of the financial burden and steep learning curve associated with the industry.
“I’ve realized that I can help others, hopefully find the same passion I have for the subject,” Stine said. “It’s the least I can do and part of our Land Grant mission to help the next generation of innovators and big thinkers access this knowledge base and software.”
Stine believes this could establish OSU and CEAT as the information and research center for IC design and innovation in the years to come.
“I want to make OSU a second or third Silicon Valley,” Stine said. “I want us to be the leading authority on this in terms of learning.”
Another component of the project will be the STEM public, which the group hopes will be funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation. The researchers hope that introducing younger audiences to these intricate components at an early stage will help future generations of innovators understand the importance of IC design and manufacturing, thereby fueling the development of the next generation of integrated circuits.
“We have been very fortunate to attract this level of research talent to ECE and OSU,” said Young. “These two grants will lay the foundation for world-class research and establish OSU and ECE as leaders in these research areas.”