End-to-End Solutions using Wireless Sensing and Communications

In this area of research, the focus is on developing vertical solutions for different industry domains based on multi-modal sensing and communication technologies with wireless playing the major role. This is a recent area of research that the department has embarked on and is expected to accelerate in the near future. Currently, three vertical domains are being considered, namely retail, public safety and transportation, and solutions for various problems are being developed in these domains.

a) Retail Solutions: We are in the process of developing a suite of solutions that enable better customer experience and also provides valuable data to the retailer to determine customer behavior and quality-of-experience.  As part of this suite, two technologies are currently being developed.  One of the technologies which we refer to as Virtual Shielding provides a seamless checkout solution using RFID which is more cost-effective for the retailer and less cumbersome to use for the customer compared to currently existing solutions. Instead of using metal shielding as in currently available solutions, our technology provides a virtual shield which does not block the RF signals but instead discriminates between tags within boundary from those outside so accurate tag readings can be performed. The solution has been extended to support theft-detection and prevention. The second technology is based on RFID Touch Sensing which provides a generalized battery-free touch and gesture sensing user interface (UI) primitive applicable in retail environments. The technology is built using the technique of impedance tracking: when a human finger touches the surface of an RFID tag, the impedance of the antenna changes. This manifests as a change in the phase of the RFID backscattered signals, and is used to track touch and swipe gestures over both off-the-shelf and custom-built tags which could be attached to retail items. We are leveraging these primitives to build multiple retail solutions including interest detection (where the retailer can collect information about popular products) and product information retrieval.

b) Public Safety Solutions: In this domain, we are focused on the rapid deployment of communication and sensing solutions for aiding in public safety missions. With the possibility of communication infrastrucure being compromised in emergency sceanarios like natural disasters, our solutions aim to leverage autonomous micro aerial vehicles (MAVs) to provide the desired on-demand, reconfigurable communication network in the sky. We have architected a novel end-end system called SkyLiTE that redesigns the entire core network of current LTE networks to make it possible for deployment of an entire LTE stack (RAN+core) on a single MAV -- creating a stand-alone network of LTE small cells for providing high speed communication between first responders and/or the Internet. We have also designed a novel system that leverages MAVs and the precise ranging capability of ultra wide-band (UWB) wireless to architect an infrastructure-free tracking system, called TrackIO that is capable of tracking first responders in unknown indoor environments (from MAVs outside) to accuracies within 1-2m even when they are located deep indoors. This has the potential to provide valuable situational awareness for the mission coordinator as well as first responders, thereby enhancing both the efficiency and safety of the mission.
c) Transportation Solutions: In this vertical domain, we are considering efficient solutions for urban traffic management.  The goal is to develop a suite of solutions that enable city transportation authorities to deploy novel technologies to control and streamline traffic within their cities. The activity in this domain is in its initial stages and currently we have focused on smart-parking as an initial area for technology development.  One of the key primitives being developed uses wireless sensing technologies to detect occupancy of parking spaces outdoors. We realized that we could develop technologies for this primitive which are more cost-effective and easier to deploy than currently available solutions. We plan to use this primitive to develop a suite of solutions for smart-parking that include managing parking spaces, charging parking fees, detection of illegal parking, etc. The underlying technology is based on using wireless devices in an integrated fashion for both sensing and communication and appears to provide a much more robust solution than those currently available. We are evaluating multiple other problems for consideration in this vertical segment.
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