New DARPA Grand Challenge to focus on spectrum collaboration

DARPA 112DARPA announced on March 23 the newest of its Grand Challenges, one designed to ensure that the exponentially growing number of military and civilian wireless devices will have full access to the increasingly crowded electromagnetic spectrum. The agency’s Spectrum Collaboration Challenge (SC2) will reward teams for developing smart systems that collaboratively, rather than competitively, adapt in real time to today’s fast-changing, congested spectrum environment—redefining the conventional spectrum management roles of humans and machines in order to maximize the flow of radio frequency (RF) signals. DARPA officials unveiled the new Challenge before some 8000 engineers and communications professionals gathered in Las Vegas at the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE).

The primary goal of SC2 is to imbue radios with advanced machine-learning capabilities so they can collectively develop strategies that optimize use of the wireless spectrum in ways not possible with today’s intrinsically inefficient approach of pre-allocating exclusive access to designated frequencies. The challenge is expected to both take advantage of recent significant progress in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning and also spur new developments in those research domains, with potential applications in other fields where collaborative decision-making is critical.

“DARPA Challenges have traditionally rewarded teams that dominate their competitors, but when it comes to making the most of the electromagnetic spectrum, the team that shares most intelligently is going to win,” said SC2 program manager Paul Tilghman of DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office (MTO). “We want to radically accelerate the development of machine-learning technologies and strategies that will allow on-the-fly sharing of spectrum at machine timescales.”

The Challenge comes at a time of fast-growing need. Military operations increasingly rely on access to the wireless spectrum in order to assess the tactical environment and coordinate and execute their critical missions. But the military is not alone in this challenge: as society enters an era in which ever more products, from refrigerators to automobiles to commercial unmanned aerial vehicles, need access to the spectrum, it will take far more efficient and nimble use of finite spectrum resources to meet the demand.

“The current practice of assigning fixed frequencies for various uses irrespective of actual, moment-to-moment demand is simply too inefficient to keep up with actual demand and threatens to undermine wireless reliability,” said MTO director William Chappell, who provided preliminary details about the new challenge yesterday in keynote remarks at the Dynamic Spectrum Sharing Summit, also in Las Vegas.

To host the new Challenge, DARPA aims to construct the largest-of-its-kind wireless testbed, which will serve during and after the SC2 as a national asset for evaluating spectrum-sharing strategies, tactics, and algorithms for next-generation radio systems. The “Colosseum,” named after the ancient Roman amphitheater, will allow researchers to remotely conduct large-scale experiments with intelligent radio systems in realistic, user-defined RF environments, such as the wireless conditions of a busy city neighborhood or battle setting.

SC2 will unfold in three year-long phases beginning in 2017 and finish in early 2020 with a live competition of finalists who have survived the two preliminary contests. The team whose radios collaborate most effectively with various types of other radios to dynamically optimize spectrum usage will walk away with a grand prize of $2M.

A Broad Agency Announcement for the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge will be released in the coming months and will be available on An SC2 website is accessible at and will be updated with information about the challenge, a rules document, and registration forms as they become available.

Source: DARPA