California Researchers Offer Open-Source
Platform To Speed Wireless Development
By Doug Ramsey
In a bid to speed
development of new wireless protocols and networking standards,
the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information
Technology (Calit2) at UCSD has begun distributing for alpha
testing a hardware-and-software platform for wireless research
and development. Called CalRadio 1.0, the open-source device
gives academic and corporate researchers unprecedented freedom
to develop new radio frequency (RF) solutions.
1.0 developer Douglas Palmer
Principal Development Engineer, Calit2
is a software-defined radio platform that allows researchers
to test out new algorithms and new techniques for wireless communications,"
said Douglas Palmer, principal development engineer at Calit2.
"The first generation of this platform is based on the
802.11b Wi-Fi standard, but we are already developing future
generations that will make it possible to use CalRadio in other
wireless standards or even design entirely new ones."
The R&D device
will be on display at MobiQuitous 2005, the second annual conference
on mobile and ubiquitous systems, networks and services, which
runs today through July 21 in San Diego. An early CalRadio prototype
took the Best Demo prize in April at IPSN-SPOTS, an international
conference that drew academic and industry researchers working
on sensors and networks. "They were excited to see a new
platform come along," observed Palmer.
Several companies cooperated
in the development of CalRadio, which took nearly two years
to develop. Symbol Technologies contributed the RF module and
early media access control (MAC) code, and Texas Instruments
donated the development system. The first version of CalRadio
is powered by a high-performance TI TMS320VC5471 ARM (Advanced
RISC Machine) + DSP (Digital Signal Processor). The ARM processor
runs ucLinux for convenience of software development, and the
DSP implements the MAC for the 802.11b Wi-Fi standard in C code.
"Since all aspects
are coded in C, they can be altered quite easily," noted
Palmer. "Until now, if you wanted to do anything in the
Wi-Fi area, you were stuck with what manufacturers offered:
usually dozens of functions implemented on a single piece of
silicon. There was no flexibility to alter algorithms. With
CalRadio, they can be altered easily to fit a particular type
of research, including queueing, ad hoc networking, security,
and power management."
CalRadio is also designed
to be a valuable teaching tool for graduate and undergraduate
researchers. "It's important that students get hands-on
experience," said Ramesh Rao, Calit2's division director
at UCSD. "With CalRadio, they can try out all their wireless
networking dreams and visions on a real working box that is
In what one engineer
calls a "garage shop operation," Calit2 researchers
are building the first 50 boxes on campus, for distribution
at cost plus an administrative handling fee (price tag: $2,000
per unit). Calit2 expects to outsource manufacturing and distribution
of the devices, but intends to remain a nexus for promoting
CalRadio as an open-source platform for research.
"We want everything
to be open source and available to any researcher who wants
it, and Calit2 will act as a clearinghouse for information on
improvements as they happen," said Palmer. "Researchers
can create new CODEC algorithms, new modalities of communications,
and even new types of wireless systems."
CalRadio board integrates numerous functions
believe that their device can provide a platform for development
and even publication of the next generation of RF specifications.
In the past, a new standard such as IEEE 1394 (FireWire) was
published as a written specification and interpreted in different
ways by different researchers. By contrast, the code for JPEG
was written, posted, and deployed almost instantly and universally.
"We are trying to duplicate that same success story for
wireless communications standards," said Calit2's Rao,
a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UCSD's
Jacobs School of Engineering. "The next Bluetooth or ZigBee
could be developed on this kind of platform, with the specifications
being published as a real working device. That eases the speed
of deploying new standards."
Initial shipments of
the new box - which can double as a Wi-Fi access point or client
- have gone to researchers at Hughes Research Laboratories and
several Calit2-affiliated projects that are developing emergency-response
technologies. They include the National Science Foundation-funded
Responsphere and RESCUE, as well as WIISARD (Wireless Internet
Information System for Medical Response in Disasters), underwritten
by the National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine.
- including Doug Palmer - are using ad hoc 802.11b networks
deployed at disaster scenes to give first responders the connectivity
they need to track victims and provide situational awareness
to emergency officials and hospitals removed from the scene.
"The 802.11 standards
were first conceived for someone with a laptop, sitting down
in an auditorium, to give them access to the outside world,"
explained Palmer. "Very often, if you try to use Wi-Fi
in a mobile environment where users are rapidly moving between
access points, communications fail miserably. New types of mobile
standards are needed, so for that kind of development, having
a low-cost platform where you can buy 20 or 30 of these and
deploy and experiment with them is going to be very valuable."
CalRadio sports 16
megabytes of memory and 4 megabytes of EEPROM [electrically
erasable programmable read-only memory] for data and code storage.
Its digital signal processor runs at 100 megaherz and has considerable
throughput. "CalRadio packs a lot of power," added
Palmer. "You can monitor energy use for every single sub-system
on the board. If you are doing algorithms that are sensitive
to energy usage, as you alter the algorithms, you can monitor
power consumption very precisely, and even track the temperature
on the board."
equipment will be distributed through Calit2's project support
office at UCSD. All orders must be placed through Erica
Negretti at (858) 822-4735. Complete details about CalRadio
1.0's architecture, data sheets, schematics, descriptions of
the board and RF module and other specifications are available
online at http://calradio.calit2.net/calradio1.htm.
Media Contact: Doug
Ramsey, Jacobs School of Engineering (858)-822-5825