Brainy Radio

Researchers tune in on wireless devices that learn.

A personal digital assistant (PDA) falls from its owner’s pocket during lunch. After a little while on the restaurant floor, it awakens, calls home, and notifies its owner that it has been left behind. That’s all in a day’s work for a “cognitive radio,” a wireless device that’s aware of its environment and learns from its user.

Cognitive radios don’t exist yet. But Joseph Mitola, a computer scientist at Mitre, in Bedford, MA, aims to make them a reality by exploiting the added processing power that will be built into tomorrow’s wireless devices. Mitola is one of the pioneers of “software radio,” which gives users of cell phones and other two-way radios the ability to use a single device to communicate over a range of frequencies. Now Mitola is thinking about other applications-such as artificial-intelligence-based learning-for wireless devices stuffed with software. “A cognitive radio learns the preferences of its user without being explicitly programmed,” Mitola says.

As a first step, Mitola has customized a simulated PDA to glean owner preferences from text-based information. To learn from other kinds of patterns, wireless devices need a standardized way to describe and track such factors as location and transmission conditions, so Mitola has crafted a computer language that will do just that. Before sending data to the home office of a cost-conscious enterprise, for instance, a cognitive PDA with software written in Mitola’s new language might automatically search for a cheap wide-area-network connection before it would use a more expensive cellular network. Mitola is also working with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to spot promising applications in areas such as battlefield radios that can detect and outmaneuver jamming attempts. He cautions, though, that it could take a decade for handheld devices to gain enough processor power and memory to achieve cognition on this scale.

This story is part of our February 2003 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Cognitive radio eventually will benefit both military and commercial carriers, believes Jeffrey Reed, deputy director of Virginia Polytechnic Institute’s Mobile and Portable Radio Research Group, whose investigators are studying ways networks of cognitive radios might interact. Wireless providers, especially, will need machine-driven ways to guide customers through the panoply of options for voice and data communication for so-called fourth-generation, or 4G, wireless services. Says Reed, “I think this is where 4G is going.”

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from undefined

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Premium.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

You've read of free articles this month.