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Engineers receive grants from Virginia Innovation Partnership to market inventions


BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 11, 2014 – Three Virginia Tech faculty members’ ideas to add communications capability to devices, help provide high-speed Internet to remote areas, and improve the safety of materials have received awards from the Virginia Innovation Partnership i6 Challenge.

College of Engineering researchers with the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech will partner with mentors to help those ideas become commercial products, thanks to the awards.

The researchers are Jeffrey Reed, the Willis G. Worcester Professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Marwan Al-Haik, an associate professor of engineering science and mechanics; Michael Philen, an associate professor of aerospace and ocean engineering; Carl Dietrich, a research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Brent Roeder, a project associate in electrical and computer engineering.

Reed is director of Wireless@Virginia Tech and Roeder is chief operating officer of the center.

The Virginia Innovation Partnership is designed to accelerate innovation and economic growth. The i6 Challenge is a multi-agency grant that encourages and rewards innovative and groundbreaking ideas that accelerate commercialization and job creation.

According to the i6 governing committee, the three ideas were selected because the projects offered significant scientific, technical, and commercial potential.

Many objects have embedded wireless communication capabilities, such as medical instruments, utility meters, vehicles on highways, and even food containers in refrigerators. Reed was awarded $55,000 to develop a system that allows hand-held devices to connect to these objects like an “Internet-of-Things.”

Reed calls the project, “Dynamic-Spectrum-Access-Enabled One-to-Any Radio: Connect Anywhere, Anytime and with Anyone.”.

Creating the Internet-of-Things requires that mobile devices connect and remain connected to several types of networks as the user moves about. Reed’s solution allows general users to access under-used wireless spectrum.

The idea is to transition the proposed solution into a chip that can be installed in mobile devices. Team members include -principal investigator Taeyoung Yang, and doctoral associate Eyosias Yoseph Imana.

Al-Haik was awarded $30,000 for his project, “Smart Composites with Structural Health Monitoring.”

Composites laminated with fiber-reinforced plastics are used frequently in aircraft and aerospace industries, automobile frames, ship-building, and other structural applications because of their strength and stiffness.

Al-Haik has proposed to develop and design an embedded structural health monitoring system to detect and mitigate failure between the layers of laminated composites. Philen is the co-principal investigator.

“By growing smart nanowires on carbon fibers, we can create novel composites that can sense and identify damage in large structures like airplanes as well as improve the strength of the structure,” said Al-Haik.

The zinc oxide nanowires carry the advantages of structural flexibility, lower cost, compactness, light weight, low power consumption, and high efficiency.

“This funding from the Virginia Innovation Partnership i6 will be instrumental in taking this technology from the lab to commercial applications,” said Al-Haik.

Dietrich and Roeder were awarded $30,000 to develop a proof of concept for Roeder’s idea, “Spectrum Management Research Testbed — Self-Sustaining Broadband Network.”

Many rural counties in Virginia have a need for expanded broadband service, and the government and industry have a need for a large scale spectrum-sharing testbed. This mobile testbed will solve both of these problems.

“With the government making additional radio frequency spectrum available for sharing, we expect there will be new opportunities for wireless Internet service providers to expand broadband services in rural areas. However, a mobile test environment must be developed so that new spectrum sharing technologies can be tested in a real-world environment to ensure that government, commercial, and other spectrum users can co-exist,” Roeder said. “At the same time, there has to be an economic incentive for service providers to take advantage of the spectrum sharing opportunities to provide expanded broadband in rural areas. The goal of our solution is to provide for both of these needs,” said Roeder.

Team members are principal investigator Dietrich, co-principal investigator Roeder, and Reed.

A premier Research Institute of Virginia Tech, the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science ensures a sustainable future by advancing transformative, interdisciplinary research at the intersections of engineering, the humanities, and the physical, life, and social sciences.

Written by Kelly Kaiser.


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