The U.S. Department of Defense is challenging the public to come up with new ways to make wireless devices play nice with each other, as their rising numbers and bandwidth requirement put increasingly more strain on the radio spectrum.

The Spectrum Collaboration Challenge is DARPA's (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) latest Grand Challenge. The Defense Department announced the challenge before a crowd of about 8,000 during the International Wireless Communications Expo in Las Vegas.

DARPA will reward a $2 million grand prize to contestants who find ways to empower civilian and military radios to collaboratively adapt to network strain in real time, rather than having the devices compete with each other. The objective is to leverage machine learning to build out strategies for optimizing the use of the wireless spectrum.

"The current practice of assigning fixed frequencies for various uses irrespective of actual, moment-to-moment demand is simply too inefficient to keep up with actual demand and threatens to undermine wireless reliability," says DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) Director William Chappell.

Typically, DARPA challenges reward teams that dominate the competition. But for the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge (SC2), the agency will honor the group that offers the most intelligent ideas, said Paul Tilghman, SC2 program manager at the MTO.

"We want to radically accelerate the development of machine-learning technologies and strategies that will allow on-the-fly sharing of spectrum at machine timescales," says Tilghman.

DARPA hopes that the ideas that emerge through the challenge will spur breakthrough in wireless technologies, artificial intelligence, machine learning and other areas where "collaborative decision-making is critical."

Along with spurring new developments across multiple fields, SC2 could also see the construction of a wireless test bed called the "Colosseum," possibly the biggest of its kind, that will be used as a national asset for testing new strategies for spectrum sharing.

Named after the ancient Roman amphitheater, the testing platform will enable researchers to remotely conduct experiments at a large scale. The Colosseum will feature realistic, user-defined radiofrequency environments, allowing scientists to test their intelligent radio systems in different wireless conditions and settings, such as in a battleground or a busy urban area.

The first phase of the three-year Spectrum Collaboration Challenge will kick off in 2017. In early 2020, DARPA will host the challenge's conclusion live with the finalists.

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