September 19, 2019

To ensure the nation’s leadership in fifth generation (5G) wireless networks, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and an industry consortium have invested $100 million to build specialized wireless networks for U.S. researchers to test new ways of increasing wireless speed and capacity. North Carolina’s Research Triangle region has been selected for a $24 million NSF grant over five years to host one of these wireless networks called Aerial Experimentation Research Platform for Advanced Wireless, or AERPAW.

North Carolina State University will lead the AERPAW research. Ismail Guvenc, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, is the primary investigator (PI) on the project. Co-PIs on the project are: Rudra Dutta, professor and interim associate head of computer science; Brian Floyd, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Mihail Sichitiu, professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Thomas Zajkowski, flight operations manager, Institute for Transportation and Research Education (ITRE).

On today’s 4G networks, fixed nodes enable signals to connect to wireless devices. On the AERPAW platform, nodes will be mobile, with the ability to transmit and receive radio waves from user devices while moving on demand. For example, in the aftermath of a natural disaster such as a hurricane, existing cellular networks may be damaged. As a result, aerial base stations can position themselves to provide the best wireless coverage to victims and first responders who would otherwise have no cellular connectivity. The platform also has the potential to help pilots fly drones beyond line of sight, allowing for improved air traffic control under FAA regulations.

ITRE since 2012 has conducted industry-leading aviation research on uncrewed aircraft systems, NextGen aviation technologies, and aviation infrastructure. ITRE is also home to the NextGen Air Transportation Consortium (NGAT) and the North Carolina Airport Technical Assistance Program (NC AirTAP). Collectively these resources offer research, services, strategic planning, and training needs for the state and national aviation communities.

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