Engineering students among TI finalists
By Lynn Nystrom
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 27 - April 9, 1998
A group of electrical-engineering graduate students advised by Virginia Tech faculty member Jeff Reed has been named one of nine semi-finalists in a world-wide competition sponsored by Texas Instruments (TI).
According to Reed, the group led by Kimberly Phillips has "illustrated theoretically how to triple the cellular-communications system capacity depending on the particular wireless system." Their work also promises to improve reliability of wireless calls and will extend their range. Cellular systems will also become less intrusive to install because the size of the towers can be reduced.
Reed, associate director of Virginia Tech's internationally known Mobile and Portable Radio Research Group, explained the students developed a "very clever design....Think of rabbit ears on an old television set. When you adjust the ears, you are trying to point them in the direction of the incoming signal. The students have developed a way to do this electronically." This idea has been in the research community for a number of years, but the Tech students are among the first to implement the idea with hardware.
"The students have also developed this hardware very inexpensively, using less than about $3,000 in parts," Reed said.
The other members of the Tech team are Neiyer Correal, Raqibul Mostafa, Zhong Hu, and Keith Blankenship. TI billed the students' research as work "that could bring dramatic improvements to wireless communications."
The world-wide competition, called the TI Digital Signal Processing (DSP) Solutions Challenge, will reward the grand-championship team with a prize of $100,000 for the most innovative design using DSP devices, the chips behind the electronics revolution.
The other eight semi-finalists, each of whose teams will divide $1,000, are teams from the University of San Diego (California), Centro Federal de Educacao Tecnologica do Parana (CEFET) (Brazil), Tokyo Institute of Technology (Japan), Tianjin University (China), Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), University of New South Wales (Australia), Katholieke Universiteit-Leuven (Belgium) and Universit di Perugia (Italy).
From the nine semi-finalists, three finalist teams will be chosen to compete for the grand prize. The winning team will divide the $100,000. The other two finalists each will win $10,000. The winner will be announced May 12 at the International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing (ICASSP) in Seattle, Wash.
In addition to student prizes, advising professors for the grand-prize-winning team will receive a cash prize of $15,000 and an offer of a six-month sabbatical program at TI.
"TI designed this competition to encourage engineering students world wide to learn about and use DSP's," said Michael Hames, vice president, TI semiconductor group and world-wide DSP manager. "With the number of engineering graduates in short supply and the DSP market growing more than 30 percent a year, we are making significant investments to encourage training that includes DSP-solutions technology so students will be prepared to compete in the workforce of tomorrow."
DSP's are specialized micro-processor chips that crunch complex mathematical calculations and move data at amazingly fast speeds to process signals. When coupled with mixed-signal chips, DSP's analyze and make decisions about "real-world" analog signals so fast that calculations occur in "real time," or as they occur in real life. These DSP solutions make access to the Internet faster and communication on digital cell phones clearer.
TI received 273 entries from more than 800 students in 26 countries. Submittals were judged by TI representatives for their overall creativity, practicality and repeatability, difficulty, completeness, professionalism, as well as operability.
"Our finalists have stretched their imaginations to create new applications with TI's industry-leading DSP solutions that pay off in prizes for them now--and in hands-on experience for the future," said Torrence Robinson, TI's DSP-solutions university program manager. "The China team, for example, demonstrated a system to reduce noise and improve the broadcast quality of television broadcasts for high-definition television (HDTV). Although digital-television products will soon be readily available, the quality of the images received at home will depend largely on the technology used by broadcasting stations and cable system providers."
The DSP Solutions Challenge is one of several TI programs supporting higher education. Recently, TI announced it would invest $25 million to encourage top-level DSP research at some of the world's leading engineering schools.