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"Air Traffic Control" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Software being developed at the University of Michigan works like a stoplight to help manage the traffic created by wireless transmissions.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Organized chaos

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: sound of traffic jam, horns, collisions) We're caught in a massive "traffic jam." Those Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices of ours are clogging the airwaves with their wireless transmissions, competing for limited space. Calls are dropped; bandwidth is wasted. Now a team from the University of Michigan has developed software to bring order to this wild wireless world.

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and some other gadgets share the same spectrum, but use different signaling formats, so they can't coordinate with each other. Though they're all programmed to listen for openings of silence before they send their own transmissions, (Sound effect: crickets) they often still end up occupying the same radio space at the same time--colliding (Sound effect: collision sound) or blocking one another.

The new software, called "GapSense," creates a common language of energy pulses and gaps--that lets devices coordinate so there are fewer conflicts. (Sound effect: sound of air traffic controller) It's almost like a built-in "air traffic" control system--uh roger that. In tests, the team got around an 88% reduction in interference on some networks. And when they tested GapSense in a simulated office environment, a 45% collision rate was reduced to eight.

(Sound effect: communication signals) Radio signals that get along (Sound effect: mockingly polite)--"no, you go first"--"after you please"--"no, no, I insist."

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