PAWR launches UAS-focused wireless research testbed

The Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR)’s latest wireless testbed, AERPAW, is officially available for research. The testbed, located in Raleigh, North Carolina’s Research Triangle area, focuses on research related to wireless technologies to support unmanned aerial systems, or drones.

In conjunction with the testbed’s general availability, AERPAW is holding an event at the main campus of North Caroline State University over the next two days that includes tours of the AERPAW experimentation areas, drone flight and software-defined radio experiment demonstrations, training and post sessions and panel sessions that will discuss how the testbed can be used for advanced wireless and drone experimentation.

“The AERPAW platform uniquely combines programmable wireless networking with custom drones to enable research into both airspace operations and wireless connectivity through 4G, 5G, and beyond,” said Ismail Guvenc, AERPAW principal investigator and engineering professor at NC State. “Given significant public and private sector interest, we’re excited to see where the first experiments lead, and what early insights may emerge from the research community.”

The PAWR program now has three large-scale testbeds: One in Salt Lake City, Utah with a software-defined, end-to-end wireless network and massive MIMO; one in West Harlem in New York City, focused on mmWave research and innovation in backhaul technologies; and AERPAW in North Carolina. A fourth testbed is in the works, which will cover 600 square miles of central Iowa. The Agriculture and Rural Communities, or ARA, testbed will focus on new strategies and technologies for expanding rural broadband, and uniquely rural applications for advanced wireless technologies.

The National Science Foundation funds the $100 million PAWR program, which is administered by US Ignite; the PAWR Program Office is co-led by US Ignite and Northeastern University. As the PAWR Program Office describes it, the AERPAW testbed “is designed to accelerate the integration of UAS into the national airspace and enable research into advanced wireless technologies supporting dynamic, mobile, and airborne networks.”

In its first phase of operations, the AERPAW testbed consists of two fixed network nodes on Centennial Campus at North Carolina State University, along with one tower with a fixed node deployed at Lake Wheeler Field Laboratory, which is an agricultural site owned by the university. There are also two aerial-mounted nodes on custom drones, and a portable node on a ground-based rover, according to the PAWR Program Office. The nodes all have software-defined radios that can use various open-source software stacks and create different types of network environments.

AERPAW drone in flight, viewed from a second drone. Image: AERPAW, screenshot via YouTube

Initially, AERPAW will allow researchers to pre-program a path for a single drone to fly so that signal measurement data can be collected, providing insights into radio performance and network optimization strategies at different speeds, directions and locations in space

Future experiments that will be supported, PAWR said, include “dynamic on-the-fly vehicle control ability, new network nodes being built out across the testbed
footprint, and the integration of commercial radio hardware and software alongside open source network components.”

AERPAW is the led by NC State, along with the Wireless Research Center of
North Carolina, Renaissance Computing Institute, Mississippi State University, University of South Carolina, Purdue University, the town of Cary, the city of Raleigh, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, and many other academic, industry, and municipal partners.

“This is only the beginning for AERPAW,” said Marc Hoit, vice chancellor for Information Technology at NC State. “We’re excited to bring experimenters to the platform, and we look forward to expanding the capabilities of the testbed to enable even greater academic and industry innovation across wireless and unmanned aerial systems.”

Videos of initial drone test flights at the Lake Wheeler site can be viewed on the AERPAW program page.

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