Researchers create free, downloadable software radio design tool
November 19, 2004
The Mobile and Portable Radio Research Group (MPRG) in Virginia Tech's Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has developed the fundamental software for use in designing software radios and is offering this tool free to other wireless communications researchers throughout the world.
"The tool available on the Virginia Tech website already has been downloaded by numerous companies and universities from around the world," said Jeffrey Reed, professor of electrical and computer engineering and deputy director of the MPRG.
"Software radio technology is today where personal computer technology was in the 1970s," said Max Robert, the MPRG post-doctoral Fellow who led development of the new tool, "OSSIE" (Open-Source Software Communication Architecture Implementation: Embedded).
Software radios can be any devices that use wireless radio frequency transmission and reception for communications — including cell phones, walkie-talkies, televisions, AM-FM radios, cordless phones, garage door openers, radar, satellites, shortwave radios, pagers and GPS (global positioning systems), to name a few.
Currently, radios of all kinds perform their signal processing — transmitting and receiving — based on dedicated hardware. A combination TV/AM-FM radio operates with two separate radios, one to receive television broadcasts and the other to receive radio broadcasts. Similarly, a combination garage door/car door opener has to be constructed with two distinct transmitters.
This dependence on dedicated hardware limits the function of a radio. For example, a fire chief using a walkie-talkie to contact the walkie-talkie carried by a policeman in a burning building has to hope that the two devices have the same type of dedicated hardware.
Using a software radio, the fire chief could simply load in software designed to communicate with the policeman's device. This transition would be possible if the signal processing capability were defined by software, rather than by dedicated hardware. In addition, the fire chief's software radio could communicate with a variety of other devices, such as cell phones.
The concept of software radios has been especially attractive to the U.S. Department of Defense, which years ago established the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) to create general purpose hardware that can operate as software-defined radios.
This is where MPRG's OSSIE comes into play. OSSIE is an operating environment, or software framework, that is compatible with the JTRS military hardware and is written in C++, a computer programming language commonly used by wireless researchers. OSSIE is an environment within which software radios can be programmed and can operate.
MPRG's Robert and a team of graduate students first developed OSSIE as a tool for a software radio research project sponsored by the Office of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Robert and Reed soon realized that other researchers could use OSSIE in their development of software radios. They also realized that pooling software with other researchers would add to a collective knowledge base for the creation of a variety of working software radios.
MPRG has made OSSIE an open-source tool, which means that researchers can download it for free and, in turn, are responsible for sharing their findings for free with other researchers.
"Offering OSSIE as an open-source tool over the Internet will speed up growth of the technology and make faster innovations possible," Robert said. "This will benefit all wireless researchers who are working to develop software radios."
Researchers can download OSSIE from the Virginia Tech MPRG Web site at http://www.mprg.org/research/ossie.