Clemson wireless communications research will help revolutionize military communications

December 07, 2000

DOD awards Clemson $4.4 million grant

CLEMSON - A $4.4 million grant to Clemson University researchers may revolutionize battlefield communication networks - making not only communications more reliable but the communication equipment much lighter and more mobile. Eventually, military communication devices could be as small as cell phones instead of the 18-pound backpack radios now in use.

Hand-held devices already exist but are useless in the field because the networking protocols - the algorithms and processing techniques that are the brains behind the hardware - don't exist.

At least, not yet.

But Clemson researchers, led by internationally renowned wireless research pioneer Michael Pursley, are working to solve that problem. The leading-edge work is funded through a five-year research grant from the U.S. Department of Defense's Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI).

The new system will be "considerably more effective than what's currently in use," predicted Pursley, Clemson's Holcombe Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Not only will the new system be far more reliable in the field, it will be able to transmit voice as well as digital data for sending maps, photos and perhaps even video. It also will be more resistant to interference and hostile jamming.

Its greatest asset, though, will be its portability. Unlike current military networks, which require excessive amounts of heavy support equipment and unacceptably long set-up times, the new networks will be self-contained, highly mobile and able to be deployed quickly in areas that have no functioning communication infrastructure. They1ll also be able to adapt to large variations in terrain since they must operate efficiently in everything from deserts to dense urban settings.

The technologies could take anywhere from one to 15 years to work their way from the lab to the battlefield, Pursley predicted.

There may also be civilian applications as well. Disaster relief teams working in an area devastated by a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake could use self-contained, mobile communication networks to enhance recovery efforts. Furthermore, fleet-based services, which could include anything from overnight delivery services and taxi companies to police departments, could use a system like this instead of relying on a fixed cellular infrastructure and its associated subscription costs.

Snagging the MURI award is particularly sweet to Pursley, who coalesced Clemson's wireless initiative when he joined the university in 1993. "Roughly 40 universities, including nearly all the top-ranked research universities in the country, competed for this award. Only Clemson and Cornell were selected for funding,2 he said.

Moreover, Clemson is the only university to receive grants in two successive DOD wireless communications competitions. Products developed from research on the 1995 grant are already being demonstrated in the field, Pursley said.

Other Clemson professors involved in the MURI research project include electrical and computer engineering faculty Harlan Russell, Daniel Noneaker, Carl Baum, Chalmers Butler, John Komo and Joseph Hammond, along with mathematical sciences faculty Jennifer Key and Shuhong Gao.

Eight graduate students and four undergraduate students have been involved to date. For graduate student Tom Macdonald, the research has also led to the distinction of being selected as one of only 15 students nationwide to receive a MURI fellowship.

"Besides funding my research, such a large grant allows me to collaborate not only with all of the faculty here at Clemson, but also with faculty at the other universities and with the technical staff at our industrial partners," said Macdonald. "It is rare that a graduate student gets such an in-depth look at interactions among the different research topics of a program of this magnitude."

BBN, an early Internet pioneer, and ITT, a leading supplier of sophisticated military communication systems, are the two primary industrial partners on the MURI research.

Clemson University

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