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Jornet Awarded $900K NSF Grant to Help Further 6G Possibilities

ECE Associate Professor Josep Jornet was recently awarded a $900K grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to be part of a collaborative project ($2.7 million total) focused on developing new Terahertz (THz) devices and their control algorithms. The project Scaling WLANs to TB/sec: THz Spectrum, Architectures, and Control focuses on improving the capacity of wireless networks to Terabits per second (a trillion of bits per second) to potentially strengthen communication protocols.

Specifically, the THz spectrum can help enable wireless 6G networks, which can speed up the connection process to the internet. With more devices connecting to the internet than ever before, 6G is becoming more of a reality.

Jornet will be working with researchers at Rice University and Brown University and said that the project aims to develop technology to enable the use of THz signals on a regular basis in society for communication.

“Imagine we’re in a conference room and people are between us. What will we do?” he asked. “We take a step to the side to see each other. What we’re going to do [with the NSF grant] first is define the ways in which we can change the direction in how we send our THz signals.”

THz signals cannot go through obstacles, such as pieces of furniture or even human beings, Jornet said. But when the direction from which THz signals are perceived is controlled, then the signals can be properly utilized.

The second part of the research centers on furthering the control of THz signals at the transmitter and the receiver, as well as along their way. Walls themselves are obstacles, Jornet noted, and can absorb THz signals and interfere with the communication process.

“Can we do something, place something, on the walls to help control the direction that the signal is reflected? Think of a mirror: you shine a light and see the light go in another direction. Depending on the angle that the light is pointed on, you will see the light in a different direction,” he explained.

Essentially, the NSF research hopes to create a type of smart mirror for THz signals. Creating an intelligent reflecting surface will bounce the signals in a controlled fashion, ensuring that the THz signals could be turned in any direction.

“We want to define the rules by which the transmitter reflects on surfaces, and the receiver will be able to close the communication link,” Jornet said. “5G is already being implemented. We’re doing fundamental research and looking at what’s next.”

The third part of the research is finding out how to orchestrate everything together.

“How do we know, in real-time, where to send the signals to know we can eventually communicate?” he asked.

Solving problems for greater connectivity

Jornet highlighted the importance of three universities collaborating to push the idea of 6G communications.

“We’re thinking in the context of next-gen ideas,” he said. “Looking at these higher frequencies and creating environments to control the signals.

Engineers are people who solve problems, Jornet added.

“That’s something I tell my students: we don’t want to create problems, we want to solve them,” he said.

“Think about how we’ve already evolved [in communications]. We went from having laptops and connected cell phones to having sensors in the home connected to the internet: a smart home. We’re trying to connect more things, we’re generating more data, and we like things to be connected faster. How do we answer? That’s what drives my research.”

Related Departments:Electrical & Computer Engineering