Melbourne firm develops first cognitive radio
BY BRIAN MONROE -FLORIDA TODAY
In movies about the future, everything thinks. Your car drives itself. Your house will notice when you get home and get a hot pot of coffee going. Robots think, too -- but they usually try to take over the world. A Melbourne company says it has received Federal Communications Commission certification for the world's first decision-making or "cognitive" radio, which could help make the most of a dwindling resource: radio spectrum. Adapt4 LLC, founded in January 2003, believes its new radio, the XG1, could make more efficient use of certain bands of radio spectrum that company officials say are used only 10 percent of the time.
The small, startup company -- which has six local employees -- could be going after customers in a $3.5 billion public-safety radio industry and the even-bigger $10 billion market for military, homeland security and utilities. But it will have competition from major defense companies working on similar technologies. Its technology works like this: a radio, or network of radios, would search among licensed radio channels for ones that are not being used at the time, and temporarily take over the frequency. "We are the first ones to commercialize" a cognitive radio, said Adapt4 President Ed Gerhardt. A radio with this technology costs about $3,500, and has a signal that can go between 5 and 15 miles. Others in the radio industry say such technology is a glimpse into the future, and would be ideal for police, firefighters or government agencies during a natural disaster or terrorist attack. The technology also could work to wirelessly monitor water, gas or electrical stations, keeping them safe from terrorists trying to destroy a power grid or poison a water supply.
Adapt 4's Melbourne-based parent company, Data Flow Systems Inc., got the idea to create a thinking radio after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, because many utilities wanted to have a way to monitor their facilities, but couldn't because of a scarcity of spectrum, Gerhardt said. "Utilities wanted to get more control and surveillance of wells, reservoirs and pumping stations to get an assessment of vulnerability," Gerhardt said. "But they couldn't transmit video-on-demand because there were not enough channels. All the licenses were gone." So Adapt4 and various government agencies and private industries surveyed electricians, plumbers and other users who had licenses for radio frequencies, and found they were barely being used. If you take a "snapshot" of the entire radio-frequency spectrum, at "any given time, you'll see that only 5 percent to 10 percent of it is being used," former FCC Chief Engineer Ed Thomas is quoted as saying in an Adapt4 presentation given to the FCC. "You can't create more frequency," Gerhardt said. "So you have to use what's available more effectively. That's what cognitive radio technology is all about."
One roadblock for Adapt4 is the FCC. The agency -- charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable -- wants to make sure a company or individual who bought a certain radio band has it readily available, even if it doesn't use it much. The agency doesn't want a company piggybacking onto a private signal for free and causing a degradation to radio chaos. That's why the FCC gave Adapt4 a certification for a very narrow band -- to test out the technology -- before opening it up further. Because the company has the FCC certification, it can show potential customers its technology. Adapt4 currently is crisscrossing the country to talk with utilities and the military about the capabilities of its radios, which can be used within a building or while bolted into a vehicle.
If these trials go well, the FCC could give the company more frequencies to work with, giving the radio's technology a credibility boost and a chance to capture more customers. Radios with the ability to choose a spectrum on the fly and "do the thinking for you is really futuristic," said David Storey, chief executive of West Melbourne-based Relm Wireless Corp., an 86-employee, publicly traded company that makes rugged digital and analog radios for the military and public-safety customers. He said a cognitive radio with access to all spectrum bands "doesn't exist yet," but is the direction radio technology is heading. "If someone comes up with a solution" for being able to build a device to jump from different frequencies and have an antenna to handle that, Storey said, "of course, there would be a market. It's the natural evolution of radio."
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