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Virginia Tech tackles the DARPA Spectrum Collaboration Challenge

Apr 6, 2017

A team of researchers from Virginia Tech has been awarded a $2,000,000 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to participate in the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge. This grand challenge focuses on developing new techniques for collaboration between radios (using machine-learning) to overcome scarcity in the radio frequency spectrum. Radio spectrum is a finite natural resource.  If you think of the array of colors in a rainbow, radio spectrum would have an array of bands that carry radio signals instead of color. In this program, teams from around the world will compete to reimagine a new, more efficient wireless networking system in which radio networks automatically collaborate to determine how the spectrum should be used moment to moment.

The team, led by R. Michael Buehrer, professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE) and director of Wireless @ Virginia Tech and Robert McGwier, chief scientist at the Hume Center for National Security and Technology, will participate in several rounds of competition through this program, developing unique technologies at each phase. ECE Professors Jeffrey Reed and Jung-Min “Jerry” Park are also part of the Virginia Tech team, as well Alan Michaels, Director of the Hume Center Electronic Systems Lab, and Hume Center research faculty Chris Headley and Dan Depoy.

Buehrer noted that “Our team is very excited to be a part of this program. The contest has the potential to completely change the way wireless networks are designed and spectrum is utilized.  Just as autonomous vehicles have the potential to fundamentally change the way transportation is done, machine intelligence and collaboration innovations have the potential to change the way communication networks are deployed.” While the radio spectrum itself is finite, the increase of wireless products, such as smart phones, that are using the radio spectrum has increased dramatically in recent years and is projected to continue to increase in the foreseeable future. The ability to manage the radio spectrum efficiently is one of the greatest challenges of our time. 

The Virginia Tech team is also sponsored by Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Laboratories. The winning team from this multi-year effort could win as much as $3.5M.

Wireless @ Virginia Tech is one of the largest university-based wireless research groups in the United States. The primary mission of Wireless @ Virginia Tech is to develop a research environment that produces high caliber students who will become the future leaders in academia, industry, and government. Wireless @ Virginia Tech continues to take a leadership role in these efforts by conducting research into the opportunities and obstacles in newly emerging wireless technologies. Visit our website at for more information.

The Hume Center was founded in 2010 through an endowment from Ted and Karyn Hume. With support from Virginia Tech's College of Engineering and Institute for Critical Technologies and Applied Sciences (ICTAS), the Hume Center leads the university's education and research ecosystem for national security technologies, with an emphasis on the communication and computation challenges of the defense and intelligence communities. Approximately 150 undergraduate students and 50 graduate students participate in Hume Center programs each year, and most receive scholarships, fellowships, or research assistantships and are vectored toward careers working for the federal government or its industrial base. Visit for more information.