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Ultra-Wide-Band Research Poised To Save Lives In Rescue, Combat

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Cookeville TN (SPX) Jun 28, 2005
Imagine if on September 11 rescue workers had been able to track each other with small locators emitting a signal that could penetrate through a building, metal, fire or smoke.

It's an effective way Tennessee Tech University's Robert Qiu introduces the high-precision tracking and communication technology that will change the face of disasters, reduce combat risks, improve commercial processes and simply make every life a little easier.

With ground-breaking work on ultra-wide-band wireless communication, listed among the top 10 technologies to watch by CNN last year, TTU researchers are poised to test a technology that goes beyond the capabilities of global positioning systems to track and communicate.

"The potential impact of UWB is recognized by the most successful business leaders in the country," said Qiu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at TTU's Center for Manufacturing Research.

"In fact, even Bill Gates said that he expects the technology to create a new industry. This technology will allow all kinds of applications that will save lives."

Qiu, along with co-principal investigator P.K. Rajan, chairperson of TTU's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, recently captured attention and funding from the U.S. Department of Defense with a proposal to build a test bed for UWB so that applications can be made quickly for ranging, sensing and communications in battlefields.

Qiu said using UWB technology could mean the difference of life or death to a combat soldier, a firefighter or rescue worker in danger.

Ken Currie, director of TTU's Center for Manufacturing Research that supports the work, agreed that the expected impact is not overstated.

"The potential is pretty phenomenal," said Currie. "The applications for defense can include detecting land mines, assessing enemy locations and tracking troops. There's such a potential for moving large amounts of data for commercial uses too. Imagine a television set without wires. It can happen with this technology."

Qiu is quick to catalogue other applications that seem limitless given the technologies capabilities. UWB can accurately locate a person or object within one inch of its location through any structure; GPS technology is only accurate up to one meter and does not work inside buildings. GPS is expensive; Qiu said ultimately UWB transmitters will cost only a few dollars.

"Commercially, you could reduce inventory time and increase efficiency in several ways," said Qiu. "For example, by attaching UWB locators to each item inside a box or crate, a scan could count and identify what's in the box without it being opened.

"People could track their livestock and pets," he said, "or use the technology to allow a home to 'know' who walks in the door and create an environment suited just for them. For instance, when dad walks in the door, the computer would check his e-mail, the temperature would adjust any device could be set to recognize his presence."

Qiu, a former CEO of a technology company sold to Intel, leads the university's efforts to develop a test bed and allow TTU researchers to look at how they are transmitted and received. Then they will work to optimize the process.

"Our motivation is to use the test bed in order to accelerate the development cycle of new technologies," said Qiu.

Interest in UWB exploded after 2002 when the FCC issued an order declassifying information and allowing commercial indoor and outdoor applications. All major patents are held in the United States, making it what Qiu called a "pure American-made technology."

TTU is only one of two universities in the country participating in a UWB study group with major international companies including Freescale Semiconductor (the former semiconductor arm of Motorola), France Telecom, Samsung, Fujitsu, Hitachi and Mitsubishi.

Funds to create the test bed lab were awarded to TTU recently through DOD's Defense University Research Instrumentation Program.

As with all new technologies, there are some initial obstacles to conquer, but Qiu said a recent development has helped clear one hurdle.

"It's important that researchers agree to standards that will allow us to keep the technology cheap enough to allow the practical applications we've envisioned," said Qiu. "Recently there's been a merging of proposals into one standard and that will expedite progress."

The wait for these applications and more will be a relatively short one. Qiu predicts TTU's work will take place in the next year, allowing many applications to be in use in about three years.

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Washington (UPI) Jun 27, 2005
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