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Zink and Philips Serve as Lead Investigators for US Ignite

Michael Zink and Brenda Philips of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department will serve as the lead investigators for the US Ignite program, a national “innovation ecosystem” for developing and deploying public sector applications and services on ultra-fast, software-defined networks to enhance the next generation of the Internet. The launch of the Ignite program was announced by senior officials from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and non-government partners.

NSF tapped scientists from nearly two dozen institutions to take part. Iginite builds on important contributions over the past several years by researchers across the nation who participated in NSF’s Global Environment for Networking Innovation (GENI) program.

Zink has been involved in foundational work for GENI, helping to establish this national research and education network for exploring future internets at scale, that is, similar in size to the current Internet. Now, he and Philips of UMass Amherst’s Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA), another NSF project, will serve as lead investigators for Ignite, a virtual online laboratory that allows researchers to experiment in real time and at scale with new networks that may shape what future internets will look like.

Zink and Philips recently won support from NSF’s Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) program for their study, “Ultra high-speed bandwidth for performance improvements in radar networks for weather and aircraft surveillance.” The goal is to demonstrate the benefits of connecting radars to ultra high-speed networks to improve hazardous weather warning and response, and to identify and track small, low-flying aircraft. They accomplished this by developing new detection algorithms that operate directly on uncompressed, high-bandwidth radar data, says Zink.

“Although radar networks are a critical part of the nation’s infrastructure for weather observation and aircraft surveillance, today’s best-effort Internet is used to transport data from radars to a variety of end users for decision-making,” Zink adds. “To allow for real-time delivery, the radar data are highly compressed and important information can be lost during this process. Transmitting uncompressed radar data over ultra high-speed networks could enable advanced, very geographically precise detection and prediction of weather hazards resulting in benefits to public safety and the economy.”

Further, the ability to track small low-flying aircraft is important for drug enforcement and homeland security, the researchers point out. Their project will be conducted using the testbed of the NSF Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA), which they both have worked on since 2004.

CASA’s latest testbed of high resolution, low-cost radars is currently being installed in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area and should be operational later this year. It is linked to users such as emergency managers and National Weather Service forecasters.

Michael Malone, vice chancellor for research and engagement at UMass Amherst, says, “We are delighted to see this terrific project, led by Mike Zink and Brenda Philips and built on the foundations developed in CASA, becoming an integral part of the US Ignite innovation ecosystem.”

The launch of the US Ignite project featured the president’s Science Advisor and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren, NSF Director Subra Suresh, other government officials, and representatives of industry and academia.

NSF will serve as the lead government agency for US Ignite, expand the footprint of GENI, and encourage the development of new, next-generation applications and services that take advantage of these advanced networks and have potential for significant impact on society. (June 2012)