ASU awarded $10M to advance future-generation wireless networks

ASU Professor Yanchao Zhang will lead a new DOD-funded Center of Excellence to advance wireless communications

October 19, 2023

The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded Arizona State University $10 million to establish a Center of Excellence in Future Generation Wireless TechnologyThe Center of Excellence in FutureG will be directed by ASU Professor Yanchao Zhang with support from six accomplished co-principal investigators at Arizona State University and The Ohio State University: Daniel Bliss; Chaitali Chakrabarti; Antonia Papandreou-Suppappola in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering; Robert LiKamWa in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering; Guoliang Xue in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence; and Ness B. Shroff at The Ohio State University. (Center of Excellence in FutureG), which seeks to advance wireless communications technology to bolster national security.

The center was awarded through the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions Research and Education Program and is administered by the Army Research Laboratory. Group of researchers talking in a lab setting. Yanchao Zhang (standing), a Fulton Schools professor of electrical engineering, discusses hardware and software solutions to ensure wireless network capacity with electrical engineering graduate students. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

Yanchao Zhang, a professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, will lead the initiative over the next five years. Fulton Schools researchers will collaborate with researchers at The Ohio State University to drive technological advancements to address a wide spectrum of network challenges and opportunities, including signal processing technologies, distributed control and machine learning algorithms, and innovative security mechanisms.

The Center of Excellence in FutureG is strategically positioned to enhance ASU’s research and educational capabilities while positioning the university as a critical contributor to preserving the military’s technological edge in future-generation wireless, or FutureG, technology.

Pushing communications technology to new heights

FutureG networks, such as 6G and beyond, are designed to seamlessly incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning into integrated sensing, communication and computation.

FutureG networks are distinct from existing networks like 5G due to various advances, including global coverage, faster data rates, lower delays, high-precision positioning, improved network reliability, greater energy efficiency and better security.

The Center of Excellence in FutureG seeks to gain tactical advantages for the U.S. military by using FutureG networks. The center’s team will develop fundamental hardware and software solutions to ensure extraordinary network capacity, establish scalable network control, foster intelligent and resilient network management, and fortify security and reliability. Researchers in the center also aim to develop energy-efficient system-on-a-chip technology and pioneer augmented and virtual reality applications in the FutureG realm.

Zhang says ASU’s selection as the lead institution for the new center can likely be credited to the university’s established reputation for leadership in networking technologies. He based the premise for the center on his ongoing work in the Cyber and Network Security Group, which conducts fundamental and experimental research on security and privacy issues in computer and networked systems.

“Each technical thrust within the center is guided by an eminent expert with a remarkable track record in their respective area of specialization,” says Zhang, a faculty member in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, part of the Fulton Schools. “Our diverse range of complementary expertise empowers us to collaboratively address the challenges presented by FutureG networks. I believe this collective strength is a key factor behind our selection by the DOD.”

The group’s focus on wireless networks and systems, artificial intelligence and machine learning has led to several research projects supported by federal research agencies.

“The FutureG Center of Excellence is a prime demonstration of ASU’s commitment to advancing wireless communications technology and recruiting and building the workforce needed to deploy it globally,” says Stephen Phillips, professor and director of the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering.

Zhang’s contributions to wireless and mobile security technology have earned him the status of fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and key leadership roles in the research community. He has chaired four workshops for the National Science Foundation and U.S. Army Research Office and collaborated with both organizations to identify critical research challenges and shape their research agendas in cybersecurity and privacy within networked systems.

An asset for the ASU community

Zhang says that beyond technological advances, the ASU community stands to benefit greatly as the home of the Center of Excellence in FutureG. He says hosting the center will further distinguish the research initiatives already being led by ASU.

“Our center’s team aspires to establish ASU as a premier leader and invaluable contributor in upholding the DOD’s technological superiority in FutureG technology, both during the project’s five-year duration and beyond,” Zhang says.

He is particularly proud of the opportunities the center will offer engineering students, especially those from communities often underrepresented in engineering and technology fields.

Kyle Squires, ASU vice provost for engineering, computing and technology and dean of the Fulton Schools, praises the center for exemplifying the Fulton Schools’ values.

“Being awarded this new center of excellence reflects the DOD’s confidence in ASU’s established leadership in areas vital to future-generation wireless technologies,” Squires said. “Not only will this center contribute advances to help support an efficient and reliable communications infrastructure, it’s fulfilling one of the university’s core missions to offer learning opportunities to a broader community through purposeful, impactful research.”

Named a Hispanic-Serving Institute, or HSI, in 2022, ASU is committed to serving a diverse community. The Center of Excellence in FutureG at ASU is one of four centers across the U.S. being established to help increase the number of graduates in STEM fields, including those from underrepresented minorities. 

“Establishing the centers at minority-serving institutions also strengthens the STEM pipeline by improving the skill sets of future scientists and engineers, preparing them for careers that will help advance the department’s research enterprise,” said DOD HBCU/MI Program and Outreach Director Evelyn Kent in an Oct. 17 press release.

Hannah Weisman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Marketing and Communications


Revolutionizing air traffic control using AI

ASU faculty design a novel system to optimize safety, efficiency in air travel

October 19, 2023

A priority of any aircraft flight is safety, with risk at its highest during takeoff and landing. Air traffic controllers have relied on the National Airspace System, or NAS, data system to keep track of countless moving variables all while at the mercy of weather, scheduling and the occasionally inevitable delay.

Traffic management systems are designed to account for information based on aeronautical instrumentation, the environment, intrinsic variabilities and human factors across the country, requiring a sophisticated level of processing power.  Man seated an an air traffic control panel. John Delugt, an assistant teaching professor in The Polytechnic School, navigates the air traffic control simulation on Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

The structure behind air traffic control systems is expected to evolve significantly in upcoming years through the incorporation of artificial intelligence and the rise of unmanned aerial vehicles. As new software is developed to tackle such large-scale data analysis, researchers are exploring how to optimize safe flight systems to minimize risk and delay. 

Yongming Liu, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, and director of the Center for Complex System Safety, received funding from the NASA University Leadership Initiative to create a novel air traffic management software platform, which will be adopted for domestic air travel in the upcoming decade. 

Data-driven flights

Liu and a team of collaborators across multiple institutions are taking a proactive management approach to the nation’s evolving airspace system when developing their new software, PARAATM, or Prognostic Analysis and Reliability Assessment for Air Traffic Management. The software integrates artificial intelligence as well as radar and GPS signaling. 

“We are among the first few groups to have access to this very large database shared by NASA,” Liu says. “By using the data to make predictions and action planning to mitigate the risk, it has turned out to be very successful.”

A cornerstone of their platform is to manage the human factor errors that compound risk, particularly among human air traffic controllers. Nancy Cooke, a professor in human systems engineering for The Polytechnic School, part of the Fulton Schools of Engineering, says that focusing on the impact of human behavior is vital to mitigate risk as the industry undergoes these major shifts.

“There are humans involved all across the flight experience, all the way from passengers to pilots, air traffic controllers and flight attendants,” Cooke says. “Looking at the capabilities and limitations of humans should be core considerations of what we design.”

With data provided by NASA, the team developed a platform to collect and analyze data to optimize flights. Once the aircraft is 200 miles away from the destination, their software can begin planning landing time to arrive safer and faster. The software has also been able to predict potential issues more than a minute in advance, maximizing response time to troubleshoot. 

The future of flying

The team understands that the future of aviation safety relies on training qualified students as much as advancing technologies.

“We are shaping the education of the next generation by understanding the current one, using education to impact the future operation,” Liu says.

Qihang Xu, a mechanical engineering graduate student, says that focusing on data sources to improve air traffic management has given him insight into the fundamentals of aviation and machine learning.

“The hands-on experience I gained from this project, especially in applying book knowledge to real-world scenarios, has shaped my research approach and allowed me to apply theoretical knowledge in practical situations,” he said.

The availability of new technology and data sources promises the possibility of reducing aviation gridlock in the sky and at airports, cutting weather-related delays and enabling air traffic controllers and pilots to see the same real-time display of air traffic for the first time. Additionally, modernizing the nation’s complex air transportation network helps ensure efficient fuel usage by airlines, reduced aircraft emissions and increased access to airports by the general aviation community.

The team has released the software for the research community to expand their toolkit and process more complex large-scale data analytics scenarios. PARAATM is expected to significantly benefit the community nationwide and globally over the next decade.

“Airspace is going to get very complex,” Cooke says. “The whole way that the air traffic control system works is supposed to change under the next generation, but safety is always going to be the most important thing.”

Hannah Weisman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Marketing and Communications