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Georgia Tech advances technology through industry collaborations

127 years ago, the founders of the Georgia Institute of Technology set out on a mission to create an academic environment with an ambitious set of goals, one of which was to support the economic growth of the community. Today that commitment is being met, in part, through the technical work of the Georgia Electronic Design Center (GEDC), a cross-disciplinary electronics and photonics design center. Georgia Tech’s GEDC works closely with commercial enterprises to develop high speed electronic components and signal processing solutions. “At the heart of the GEDC is our close relationship with industry, which enhances our ability to transfer our innovations and discoveries to commercial entities,” states Dr. Stephen Ralph, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and Director of the GEDC. “This collaboration in turn provides benefits to the community, including the state of Georgia, local commerce, and the university’s students and staff.” The GEDC community is so rich in talent that some companies have located to Atlanta to leverage that expertise and the university’s extensive suite of equipment and laboratories.

Multidisciplinary focus at GEDC

The GEDC does research in application areas such as wireless communications, radar and sensor systems, and high speed optical networks, just to name a few. This work uses enabling technologies such as RF, microwave, and signal processing systems. “A key feature of our program is the management of work across multiple technologies,” notes Dr. Ralph. “Students today need to understand entire systems, not just a single discipline.” For example, a complex solution might include photonics, high speed electronics, and signal processing. This multi-discipline approach is changing the way students, faculty, and company partners think. The GEDC’s desire to work closely with industry has led the research team to think bigger with a more systems-oriented focus, enabling the insight necessary to produce revolutionary advances in each sub-discipline that produces maximum impact on the system as a whole.

The Internet is a driving factor

The explosive growth of the Internet is driving the need for faster, more cost effective communications technologies spanning optical, wireless and wired technologies. World Wide Web traffic volume is up 20 - 30% annually, fueled by streaming video and financial services. Yet customers are not willing to pay more for the additional bandwidth required to handle this incremental traffic. “Our research is helping companies to provide cost effective solutions to their customers,” said Dr. Ralph speaking of the results of the GEDC/Industry collaboration. The Georgia Tech Terabit Optical Networking Consortium, led by Dr. Ralph, was founded with industry heavyweights such as Verizon, OFS, and ADVA Optical Networks. The consortium now includes more than a dozen companies that have helped create an optical networking test bed that is one of the most versatile in the world. This shared resource, which includes real time Agilent oscilloscopes, enables Georgia Tech researchers to develop signal processing strategies for future communications systems and to craft design rules for deployment of new high capacity systems that operate over the varied optical networking infrastructure.

Technical challenges

In the area of high speed wireless, industry is interested in the 60-170 GHz range for low-cost Gbps communication and interconnect systems. Other industrial sponsors are interested in lightweight radar and sensor systems. These can be used in applications such as aircraft-mounted systems for mapping weather or snow/ice fields or for gathering intelligence. GEDC helps provide technology that enables these low-cost, compact, reliable, high performance commercial and defense systems.

Partnership with Agilent Technologies

“We feel like we have a real partnership with Agilent,” commented Dr. Ralph. “For example, we had a very good experience during a recent tour of an Agilent product development facility. The most impressive thing wasn’t necessarily the technology; that was obvious. It was the excitement and enthusiasm of Agilent employees that struck me. It’s no surprise that Agilent creates technically excellent products when the designers are so excited about their program.”

Agilent test and measurement equipment figures prominently at Georgia Tech and the GEDC. The design team uses Agilent’s ADS (Advanced Design System) software and Agilent SystemVue, an EDA environment for system-level design. In addition, the Agilent 50 GHz PNA-X network analyzer excels at measuring antenna gain and performing critical noise measurements for GEDC research projects.

In Georgia Tech’s well-equipped RF and microwave labs, students get hands-on experience with x-parameter characterization of circuits, signal sources, power supplies, network and spectrum analyzers, and other high frequency test gear from Agilent. “Exposure to these tools prepares our students for industry,” said Dr. John Papapolymerou, ECE Professor and Associate Director of GEDC. “They’ll be immediately productive because they’ve done design and engineering with these tools at Georgia Tech.”

University support

GEDC’s ability to consistently provide scientific and engineering advances to industry has been a big success for the university and for companies that continue to renew their membership to GEDC’s consortium. “What makes it all possible is the great support we receive from Georgia Tech,” concludes Dr. Ralph. “Georgia Tech supports and respects the work that the center is doing with our industry partners. And we’re able to provide a unique environment for our graduate students who become widely published and go on to become leaders in industry, national laboratories and academia.”

The original founders of Georgia Tech in the 1880s could not have anticipated today’s advanced electronics and the wide reach of high speed communications and sensors, but they would certainly be pleased with the high standards that have been set at the GEDC and the positive impact that it has had on the economic health of the region.

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