System Bits: April 10

Autonomous vehicle sensor; hacker-fighting robot; fully programmable wireless network.


Ultrafast laser beam steering for autonomous cars
Researchers at Purdue University and Stanford University reported they have found a novel laser light sensing technology that is more robust and less expensive than currently available with a wide range of uses, including a way to guide fully autonomous vehicles.

The team said this innovation is orders of magnitude faster than conventional leading-edge laser beam steering devices that use phased antenna-array technology. This laser beam steering being tested and used is based on light-matter interaction between a silicon-based metasurface and short light pulses produced, for example, by a mode-locked laser with a frequency-comb spectrum. Such a beam-steering device can scan a large angle of view in nanoseconds or picoseconds compared with the microseconds current technology takes.

Researchers at Purdue University and Stanford University have found a novel laser light sensing technology that is orders of magnitude more sensitive and faster than leading-edge sensor devices.The technology uses a novel concept of optical frequency-arrayed technique that is more robust. Source: Purdue Research Foundation

Amr Shaltout, a post-doctoral research fellow in Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford who conceived the idea for the method said, “This technology is far less complex and uses less power than existing technologies. The technology merges two different fields of nanophotonic metasurfaces and ultrafast optics.”

A novel laser light sensing technology would use an optical metasurface and an input ultrafast pulse with a spectrum that consists of frequency comb, or equally spaced phase-locked frequency lines. The metasurface focuses these frequency components to an array of adjacent locations in space. These focused locations of different frequencies operate as the required frequency-arrayed source, which steers the generated laser beam (red arrow) at a faster speed.
Source: Purdue University

The team reminded that laser beam steering is a vital technology that can be used in a wide variety of areas including navigation, space flights, radar applications, imaging, tag-scanners, robotics, archaeology, mapping and atmospheric physics. Faster laser scanning is directly related to higher frame rates as well as improved imaging resolution.

Shaltout said he came up with the concept while earning his Ph.D. from the Vladimir Shalaev research group at Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and delineated it at Stanford when working with the research group of Mark Brongersma.

Further, the researchers said this innovation is chip-compatible technology that doesn’t require additional sources of energy. It is based on light-matter interaction between metasurfaces and short pulses from mode-locked lasers with equally spaced phased-lock frequency lines. Another key element is using a metasurface based on patterned silicon film, which is the basis for all of the electronic circuitry at the nanoscale to give this exciting functionality that allows the beam steering to happen.

Robot defends factories from cyberthreats
Even though it is small enough to fit inside a shoebox, the HoneyBot robot, developed by a team of Georgia Institute of Technology researchers, on four wheels has as its mission to keep factories and other large facilities safe from hackers.

The diminutive device was designed to lure in digital troublemakers who have set their sights on industrial facilities. HoneyBot will then trick the bad actors into giving up valuable information to cybersecurity professionals.

The decoy robot arrives as more and more devices – never designed to operate on the Internet – are coming online in homes and factories alike, opening up a new range of possibilities for hackers looking to wreak havoc in both the digital and physical world, the researchers said.

Cybersecurity experts have a new tool in the fight against hackers – a decoy robot. Researchers at Georgia Tech built the “HoneyBot” to lure hackers into thinking they had taken control of a robot, but instead the robot gathers valuable information about the bad actors, helping businesses better protect themselves from future attacks.
Source: Georgia Tech

Raheem Beyah, the Motorola Foundation Professor and interim Steve W. Chaddick School Chair in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering said, “Robots do more now than they ever have, and some companies are moving forward with, not just the assembly line robots, but free-standing robots that can actually drive around factory floors. In that type of setting, you can imagine how dangerous this could be if a hacker gains access to those machines. At a minimum, they could cause harm to whatever products are being produced. If it’s a large enough robot, it could destroy parts or the assembly line. In a worst-case scenario, it could injure or cause death to the humans in the vicinity.”

The team reminded that Internet security professionals long have employed decoy computer systems known as “honeypots” as a way to throw cyberattackers off the trail. The research team applied the same concept to the HoneyBot, which is partially funded with a grant from the National Science Foundation. Once hackers gain access to the decoy, they leave behind valuable information that can help companies further secure their networks.

Celine Irvene, a Georgia Tech graduate student who worked with Beyah to devise the new robot explained, “A lot of cyberattacks go unanswered or unpunished because there’s this level of anonymity afforded to malicious actors on the internet, and it’s hard for companies to say who is responsible. Honeypots give security professionals the ability to study the attackers, determine what methods they are using, and figure out where they are or potentially even who they are.”

The HoneyBot can be monitored and controlled through the internet but unlike other remote-controlled robots, the HoneyBot’s special ability is tricking its operators into thinking it is performing one task, when in reality it’s doing something completely different.

“The idea behind a honeypot is that you don’t want the attackers to know they’re in a honeypot,” Beyah said. “If the attacker is smart and is looking out for the potential of a honeypot, maybe they’d look at different sensors on the robot, like an accelerometer or speedometer, to verify the robot is doing what it had been instructed. That’s where we would be spoofing that information as well. The hacker would see from looking at the sensors that acceleration occurred from point A to point B.”

In a factory setting, such a HoneyBot robot could sit motionless in a corner, springing to life when a hacker gains access – a visual indicator that a malicious actor is targeting the facility.

Raheem Beyah, the Motorola Foundation Professor and interim Steve W. Chaddick School Chair in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Celine Irvene, a student at Georgia Tech
Source: Georgia Tech

Rather than allowing the hacker to then run amok in the physical world, the robot could be designed to follow certain commands deemed harmless – such as meandering slowly about or picking up objects – but stopping short of actually doing anything dangerous, they added.

First fully programmable wireless network
Rice University researchers said they will help create the world’s first fully programmable and observable wireless communications network in Salt Lake City as part of a national effort to prepare for a rapidly approaching time when virtually everything will demand wireless data.

The POWDER test bed in Salt Lake City will include multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output technology, or massive MIMO, like this 80-antenna base station developed at Rice University. Source: Rice University

Rice’s Reconfigurable Ecosystem for Next-gen End-to-end Wireless (RENEW) technology will underlie a city-scale wireless test platform for telecoms, tech companies and research institutions. The RENEW team include researchers from Rice University, Texas Southern, and the University of Michigan.

The Platform for Open Wireless Data-driven Experimental Research (POWDER) will allow wireless researchers, equipment makers and application developers to conduct tests with up to 40,000 users over a 5-square-mile area that includes much of the University of Utah campus and downtown Salt Lake City.

POWDER and a complementary test bed in New York City will serve as the United States’ first wireless test networks large enough to cover a small U.S. city. They are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and industry consortium partners in NSF’s Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) effort.

RENEW project leader Ashutosh Sabharwal, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice explained, “The biggest challenge for the future of wireless communications is not data speeds but scalability, in every sense. There will be order-of-magnitude increases in network nodes, number of users and types of applications. And these networks will have to be everything to everybody. They’ll be the backbone connection not just for our smartphones, but for self-driving cars; the lights, water mains and buildings of smart cities; and every imaginable sensor and gadget.”

Surya Paruchuri (left) and Lev Shuhatovich of Skylark Wireless assemble a multi-antenna “massive MIMO” base station at Rice University’s Center for Multimedia Communications. Source: Rice University

The team noted that market intelligence firm IDC expects that by 2025 more than 152,000 internet-enabled devices will go online each minute. Many of those devices will connect wirelessly, and the exponential growth in demand for wireless data contrasts with the finite availability of radio spectrum. Rice researchers on the RENEW team have spent years studying ways to serve more data to more devices with available spectrum.

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