UVic researching future of radio

New course at University of Victoria first of its kind in Canada

Electrical engineering and computer science students at the University of Victoria are getting a jump on their counterparts at other Canadian schools thanks to a new course that made its debut this fall.

The training, which is the first of its kind in Canada, focuses on software-defined radio (SDR).

It’s an emerging technology that might be on the verge of revolutionizing the communications world.

SDR technology replaces the traditional hardware used in radio transmitters and receivers with software, improving signal processing, reducing interference and providing greater flexibility in both receiving and transmitting signals.

“It’s a sea change,” said Peter Driessen, the UVic professor who successfully lobbied the department of electrical and computer engineering to introduce SDR training into its curriculum. “Just like going from a ‘dumb’ phone to a smart phone, where dumb phones are just a phone, but smart phones can do so much more. ‘Dumb’ radio is going to become ‘smart radio.’”

Driessen feels that SDR technology is about five years away from being widely available in consumer products like AM/FM radios, GPS units, and cellphones.

That’s why he wanted to introduce it to his students as soon as possible.

“We have a responsibility to teach advanced stuff,” he said. “That, combined with my personal interest in radio and software, (were why) I decided it was time to do it.”

The training includes a third-year course for undergraduate students as well as a graduate-level course.

The program cost the university about $25,000 to implement. Most of that money will pay for the hardware — similar to a sound card, with antennas instead of speakers and a microphone —  students will use. The software, however, is open source and doesn’t cost a thing.

“(It) has come to the point where this technology is feasible to have in the undergrad lab,” Driessen said. “We’re at the point where it’s not flaky, experimental software, but a more robust software platform that students can use and I can use.”

editor@saanichnews.com

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