DARPA's next challenge could lead to AI-powered radios

It thinks machine learning is the key to smarter wireless data.

Reuters/Toru Hanai

So far, the solutions to wireless spectrum crunches have involved either offering relatively untapped airwaves or reusing frequencies that were previously assigned to something else. However, DARPA knows this can't go on forever -- and it's looking for help to devise a clever way around the problem. The military research agency has launched a new Grand Challenge that will have teams develop artificial intelligence-powered radios that cooperate with each other to avoid wireless congestion. Rather than force devices to use narrow frequency ranges regardless of how crowded they may be, DARPA would like to see those gadgets negotiate frequency sharing whenever they need it.

The competition will take a while. It doesn't start until 2017, and won't pick a winner until early 2020. DARPA will even have to create a giant wireless testbed to see how the competitors fare in relatively realistic conditions. It could be worthwhile, though, as the winner will scoop up a $2 million prize.

The institution notes that there could be clear advantages to AI-based radios in the military, which could keep communications up and running on the battlefield. However, they'd also mitigate problems for just about everyone -- you wouldn't have to worry about your smartphone's data bogging down in a busy part of town, or watch nearby networks interfere with your drone flight. Wireless technologies like 5G or unlicensed cellular could become that much more practical, as you wouldn't see their potential wasted by arbitrary spectrum rules.