The increased use of wireless and internet-enabled devices – from computers to home appliances – and the data they generate are creating opportunities and challenges for the defense and commercial sectors. To help explore and better understand the complex relationship created by the intersection of physical and cyber technology within the ever more congested electromagnetic spectrum, DARPA program manager Tom Rondeau embarked on a year-long effort to build an engaged community of engineers and scientists operating within relevant technical areas. The results of these efforts will culminate in November during the weeklong DARPA Bay Area Software Defined Radio (SDR) Hackfest at NASA Ames Conference Center in Moffett Field, California. Teams from across the country will come together to explore the cyber-physical interplay of SDR and unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, during the Hackfest.
Eight teams from academia, industry, and the SDR enthusiast community have been selected to participate in the Hackfest. Featuring a broad range of backgrounds and technical expertise – from ham radio to 3D printing – each team will be challenged to exercise its SDR hacking skills with the goal of controlling a UAV through a specific set of operations. The challenges, known as the Hackfest Missions, will conclude with a final flight test on November 17, in which each team will have an opportunity to showcase a week’s worth of development and collaboration in front of a panel of judges.
The final team line-ups are as follows:
- Texas Radio Terminator from Southern Methodist University-in-Taos, the university’s campus in Taos, New Mexico
- Team Platypus Aerospace from the Aerospace Corporation
- Team Fly-by-SDR from Hacker DoJo, a non-profit community of hackers and start-ups in Silicon Valley
- DROGON from Raytheon BBN Technologies and SSCI
- Adversarial Science Laboratory from Assured Information Security
- DeepEdge from the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California
- Fat Cat Flyers from Fat Cat Fab Lab, a makerspace in New York City
- YeS DR from Parsons Corporation, a professional services firm headquartered in Pasadena, California
The Hackfest Missions are just one part of the event. A Hacker Space will be open and available to the community throughout the week, providing an area for all attendees to interact and work with on-site experts in SDR. Within the Hacker Space, Brainstorming Sessions will punctuate each day. These 30-minute sessions will provide an opportunity for attendees to engage a larger audience and discuss challenges and insights that emerge as teams work through the Missions. Since the event is not designed as a competition, the Hacker Space and the Brainstorming Sessions provide ways for teams and SDR-enthusiasts to share technological achievements, learn from each another, and foster collaboration and engagement.
To help provide broader industry context and perspective, a program of speakers will present throughout the week, focusing on relevant topics, including UAV, SDR, and cyber technologies. The speaker sessions will provide attendees with a greater understanding of the regulatory, technical, and commercial influences impacting the intersection of physical and cyber technologies. A full list of speakers and their session abstracts are available on the DARPA SDR Hackfest web site.
“At the end of the Hackfest, we hope to see new solutions to problems, better use and development of tools that expand the capabilities of everyone, and the buildup of new relationships with parts of the science, engineering, and technology communities that we have not interacted with before,” said MTO program manager Tom Rondeau.
The Hackfest stands as the finale of a yearlong effort to develop an SDR community with an interest and appreciation in the future confluence of radio and information technology. Starting in early 2017, Rondeau began that effort with a multi-city “roadshow” to bring together and energize SDR researchers and enthusiasts and to discuss the promise and potential peril associated with the physical-cyber intersection. In February, DARPA hosted a hackfest in Brussels that focused on radio frequency (RF) interference issues for commercial communications. The following month, Rondeau and fellow program manager Paul Tilghman organized a modulation recognition workshop titled “Battle of the ModRecs” for SDR engineers. Lastly, in September, Rondeau engaged the SDR community at the GNU Radio Conference 2017 (GRCon17). During the conference, Rondeau delivered several presentations and conducted a workshop that gave attendees an opportunity to work with the drone hardware and SDR software that will be a part of the Hackfest Missions. Tilghman also conducted an RF data workshop during the last day of the conference. With an interest in opening as many doors as possible, Rondeau also made several site visits to small hacker and maker spaces where he detailed DARPA’s commitment to working with a wider diversity of research and development performers in the science, engineering, and technology communities.
Additional information about the events leading up to November’s Hackfest, as well as the various activities taking place throughout the week of Hackfest, are available at the DARPA SDR Hackfest web site.