DARPA Brussels Hackfest

As the IoT and 5G—the next-generation standard for mobile communications—become more foundational for our technological infrastructure, the wireless industry is becoming increasingly aware of issues of interference, noise, interoperability, and cooperation between all electronic devices. The ability to address these issues is no longer reserved for wireless and radio engineers because the problems now span a wide set of disciplines.

In addition to spectrum allocation and usage, the management of wireless devices include issues such as security, authentication, access control, network routing, power and battery needs, and antenna placement and design. Furthermore, the design, deployment, and maintenance of wireless systems and networks require the development of a huge number of tools, including software management for code development and debugging, diagnostic tools for addressing problems when devices are fielded, and user interfaces to lower the barriers to using these devices. These problems require a wide range of specialists to work alongside the traditional software radio developers. The industry needs to enlist interface designers, software engineers, data scientists, infrastructure experts, web developers, and many others in order to create a complete solution.

While the focus of the DARPA Brussels Hackfest was on radio frequency (RF) interference issues for commercial communications, DARPA and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) also have an interest in acquiring a better understanding of interference issues. Just as in the commercial sector, the DoD’s increasing reliance on wireless connectivity entails an equally increasing risk from interference. In forward deployments and military bases, these issues are problematic due to the risk they pose for disrupting communications and the operations that rely upon them. A shared interest of the military and civilian worlds is RF interference in hospitals; reliance on wireless connectivity for many new diagnostic procedures and instrumentation leads to risks and problems arising from interference.

Recognizing the diversity of skills necessary to address this issue, DARPA invited anyone interested in this problem space to attend the DARPA Brussels Hackfest and contribute their talents to the task of better understanding the dynamic RF interference environment. As we have seen in the past, even non-experts in the software radio field can contribute significantly to solving problems while also being able to learn more about software radio and the electromagnetic spectrum. This highly consequential technical space requires both a lot of work in many different fields and a lot of great ideas and innovative thinking.