Time to result is critical because research that takes years to prototype may in fact become obsolete before it has been tested. Collaboration is the solution to put research investments to work with a clear path to commercialization.
The graphical system design approach provides an integrated software and hardware platform that simplifies development of any system by bringing together a common set of tools and technologies.
For years, academia and industry have collaborated on innovative research often with mixed results. On the surface, the marriage between university research and commercial companies seems like a natural and productive union. Unfortunately, many companies have struggled to make effective use of university research. National Instruments has worked with universities for many years to help researchers adopt a graphical system design approach to accelerate their work with a distinct and unique emphasis on prototyping, which has opened new avenues of collaboration between academia and industry. The combination of NI technology, university research, and commercial involvement effectively forms an innovation triangle to efficiently put research investments to work with a clear path to commercialization.
The graphical system design solution provides an integrated software and hardware platform that simplifies development of any system by bringing together a common set of tools and technologies. With this approach, project scopes are more focused on a long-term vision of the evolution of future research based on a common platform that defines a clear basis for system development and algorithm exploration. In addition, the outcome of the research can be effectively managed through the working prototype, expected results, and real-world testing scenarios.
1. Challenges in Research Between Industry and Academia
Transferring academic research to the commercial domain in a useful and meaningful way has been challenging. The NI approach to graphical system design addresses these challenges by offering a common platform and a unified design flow that stresses a single tool to transcend design, simulation, and prototype research phases. Specifically, the prototype becomes a focal point that establishes a common language between industry and academia.
In addition, projects that focus on building a real-world prototype have advantages over projects that rely on pure simulation as the outcome. Time to result is critical because a research topic that takes years to prototype may in fact become obsolete before it has been tested. The NI platform provides a single software framework and reconfigurable hardware to enable a graphical system design approach that compresses the design to simulation to prototype cycle, which shortens time to results. Perhaps more importantly, a common platform provides a way to share the developed intellectual property (IP) so industry researchers can verify results and perhaps share the research internally facilitating joint development and closer collaboration.
NI works with top wireless researchers to identify relevant projects such as the development of fifth-generation wireless technologies, or 5G. The development and ultimately the deployment of these 5G technologies are critical to alleviate the network capacity burdens created by the rapid adoption of smartphones. Using graphical system design, researchers map new algorithms derived from simulation to the hardware prototype to reduce potential iteration cycles. Important project touch points include the IP to be developed, training on the tools and technologies of the platform, and managing the project with clear responsibilities assigned to the participants.
With any wireless research exploring new ways to increase capacity, there is no shortage of commercial companies interested in the outcome of these projects, and industry researchers may choose to be involved at different levels. University research may be several years ahead of commercial investment, and commercial companies must invest wisely. Corporations can efficiently monitor new ideas and technologies or collaborate immediately to explore clear paths to commercialization with joint development.
2. Top Wireless Research and Collaboration
An example of a joint collaboration between industry and academia is a recently completed project between the University of Utah, Idaho National Labs (INL), and National Instruments. Professor Behrouz Farhang is investigating new techniques for reusing the spectrum required for future 5G networks to increase network capacity and coverage and potentially alleviate the inevitable bandwidth crunch predicted by industry analysts. INL is developing a testbed to be used by commercial companies to verify spectrum sharing products. INL, the University of Utah, and National Instruments teamed together to prototype some of Farhang’s ideas in response to President Obama’s 2010 directive on increasing network capacity and expanding broadband wireless coverage to 98 percent of Americans.
Together with National Instruments, Farhang and INL developed a new technique for spectrum sharing and reuse that has been tested and improved with INL’s direction. The prototype system built with NI LabVIEW system design software, NI PXI, NI FlexRIO, and Ettus Research RF technology received one of R&D Magazine’s prestigious top 100 technology awards for 2012. Not only has the system been effectively deployed at INL, but a future roadmap for evolving the technology using cognitive radio concepts is in the definition phase and is actively in the prototyping stage.
3. Closer Collaboration Using a Common Platform
The relationship between academia and corporate research requires a clear framework to enhance success. Results, sooner than later, should be prioritized along with definitive timeframes for deliverables and measures for success. Prototyping naturally addresses these challenges by delivering a working system that demonstrates a new concept to provide a clear objective. The collaboration between the University of Utah, INL, and National Instruments demonstrates how research can start in the university and extend into the commercial domain as working prototypes achieve actionable results. National Instruments and the graphical system design approach provide a system design platform that offers the bridge to expedite wireless research and empower commercial companies to capitalize on industry research.
James Kimery is the director of product marketing for RF, Communications, and Software Defined Radio at National Instruments.
This article first appeared in the Q4 2012 issue of Instrumentation Newsletter.