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Competitors vie to provide earthquake-proof radios

Can you hear me now?

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The Wireless Innovation Forum has announced the winners of its competition to find a radio technology suitable for use following a 15 gigaton earthquake.

Skipping over the huge loss of life and general destruction wreaked by a magnitude 10 earthquake - more than 10 times the size of the Indian Ocean quake of 2004 - the Forum asked teams to develop a radio system that could provide connectivity to emergency services descending on the area from around the world.

The University of Calgary team landed First Place and Best Design, pocketing $4,000 and $2,000 respectively. The Tokyo Institute of Technology got second place, worth $3,000, while the Worcester Polytechnic Institute won Best Presentation and Best Report, worth $2,000 and $1,000 respectively.

Each prize comes with a scholarship to attend the next Wireless Innovation Forum Conference.

An earthquake rating 10 on the Richter scale would go way beyond national borders (probably removing a few in the process), so the Wireless Innovation Forum envisioned complete destruction of the local wireless infrastructure and increasing radio congestion as agencies from different countries arrived on the scene with demands for ever more bandwidth.

We can't help thinking that in the event of a magnitude 10 quake (five times larger than the biggest ever seen by humans) international aid might not be forthcoming in sufficient volume to congest the airwaves, but perhaps we're too cynical.

Competing teams of students from around the world were whittled down to six in April last year, based on written submissions. The six were then tasked with creating a dynamic database to coordinate the spectrum uses of at least 20 separate emergency service groups in an apocalyptic urban setting. The database was required to sense users, and deduce transmitter locations as well the as signalling systems used, identifying available frequencies for allocation to new arrivals and working out the potential for interference based on both the frequencies and the manner in which they are used.

The teams created both hardware and software, then modelled how effective their solutions would be using Matlab, which by happy coincidence sponsored the competition.

The winners were marked not only on how effective their solution was, but also the extent to which the solutions "leverage working group efforts of the SDR Forum". Which is what this kind of competition is really about: demonstrating that Software Defined Radio can achieve remarkable things in extreme circumstances, in the hope that people will start using it in more mundane applications. ®

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