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CHIPS Articles: DARPA Selects Six Teams in Final Spectrum Collaboration Challenge Qualifier

DARPA Selects Six Teams in Final Spectrum Collaboration Challenge Qualifier
Event showcases future of autonomous spectrum management
By CHIPS Magazine - December 28, 2018
Dec. 12 was a big day for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; it held the second preliminary event of the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge (SC2) – the world’s first collaborative machine-intelligence competition to overcome spectrum scarcity and autonomous advance spectrum management.

A new approach is long overdue. Today’s model, which is nearly a century old, isolates wireless systems by dividing the spectrum into rigid exclusively licensed bands, which are allocated over large, geographically defined regions. This approach rations access to the spectrum in exchange for the guarantee of interference-free communication. However, it is human-driven and not adaptive to the dynamics of supply and demand. At any given time, many allocated bands are unused by licensees while other bands are overwhelmed, thus squandering the spectrum’s enormous capacity and unnecessarily creating conditions of scarcity, according to the SC2 website.

To demonstrate a new efficient model for spectrum management, 15 teams represented by members from across academia, industry and government met at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory to pit their intelligent radio designs against each other in a head-to-head competition. At the event’s conclusion, six of the eight top-scoring teams walked away with $750,000 each in prize money, according to a DARPA release.

While not all competitors received interim prizes, all 15 teams have an opportunity to move on to the next stage and compete in the 2019 Spectrum Collaboration Challenge grand finale, which will be held in conjunction with MWC 19 Los Angeles (formerly Mobile World Congress), in partnership with CTIA Oct. 23, 2019. CTIA is an organization that represents the U.S. wireless communications industry.

The six prize-winning teams from the second preliminary event are: Zylinium, a team of independent researchers; MarmotE from Vanderbilt University; Sprite from Northeastern University; Erebus, a team of independent researchers; Gator Wings from University of Florida; SCATTER from IDLab, an imec research group at Ghent University and University of Antwerp; and Rutgers University.

"During the second preliminary event (PE2) we witnessed a technological shift," said Paul Tilghman, the DARPA program manager leading SC2. "For the first time, we saw autonomous collaboration outperform the status quo for spectrum management."

In early December, each team’s radio participated in 105 matches against competitors in the Colosseum, a massive radio frequency testbed that was developed specifically for SC2. The matches were held in a round-robin fashion where each radio network – working in groups of threes, fours or fives – had multiple opportunities to compete against every other radio design in the competition. Roughly 400 matches were held to determine the final team rankings and the prize recipients.

During the PE2 matches, teams were put through six different RF scenarios designed to mimic the challenges that collaborative, autonomous radios will face in the real world. These scenarios challenged the radios to collaboratively mitigate interfering with an incumbent radio system, sense and adapt to the spectrum demands of high-traffic environments, handle the data demands of the connected soldier of the future, and beyond. Each scenario was designed to pressure test various elements of the teams’ approaches and, in particular, their ability to successfully collaborate with the other radios operating within the same environment, DARPA reported.

“The six different scenarios were closely aligned to actual situations that our defense and commercial systems face in the field. The Wildfire scenario, for example, replicates the complex communications environment that surrounds an emergency response situation, while the Alleys of Austin scenario was designed to mimic what’s needed to help dismounted Soldiers navigate and communicate as they sweep through an urban environment. This real-world relevance was critical for us as we want to ensure these technologies can continue to develop after the event and can transition to commercial and/or military applications,” Tilghman said.

The sixth scenario of the competition determined the six prize winning teams. This scenario explored the essential question of the SC2 competition: Can the top teams’ collaborative SC2 radios outperform the status quo of static allocation?

The answer was a confident, yes! Each of the six teams that received awards at PE2 demonstrated that their radio was capable of carrying more wireless applications without the aid of a handcrafted spectrum plan, while simultaneously ensuring four other radio networks operating in the same area had improved performance. In essence, each of these six radio networks demonstrated the autonomous future of spectrum management.

To aid with decision making, teams applied AI and machine learning technologies in various ways. Some leveraged the current generation of AI technologies like deep learning, while others used more conventional optimization approaches. There were also a few teams that used first wave, rule-based AI technologies.

“We’re very encouraged by the results we saw at PE2. The teams’ radios faced new and unexpected scenarios but were still able to demonstrate smart, collaborative decision making. PE2 showed us that AI and machine learning’s application to wireless spectrum management creates a very real opportunity to rethink our current century-old approach,” Tilghman said.

The competition now enters its third year and moves closer to the finale, which will be held at one of the country’s largest annual technology and telecommunications shows – MWC19 Los Angeles. More than 22,000 attendees from the broad mobile ecosystem and adjacent industry sectors will convene at this three-day event to discuss the current opportunities and future trends shaping the industry. The SC2 championship event will be held on the keynote stage of MWC19 Los Angeles on Oct. 23, 2019, DARPA announced.

DARPA will award $2 million, $1 million and $750,000, respectively, for first, second and third place at the conclusion of the finale.

“The real prize, however, will be the promise of a more efficient wireless paradigm in which radio networks autonomously collaborate to determine how the spectrum should be used moment-to-moment, helping to usher in an era of spectrum abundance,” DARPA said.

For more information about DARPA’s Spectrum Collaboration Challenge, please visit:

Participants in the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge Qualifier. DARPA photo
Video highlights of the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge Qualifier. DARPA video
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