A Robust Wireless Communication System for Harsh Environments Including Nuclear Facilities

Period of Performance: 07/31/2017 - 07/30/2019

$1MM

Phase 2 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Dirac Solutions Inc.
5776 Stoneridge Mall Rd Suite 226
Pleasanton, CA 94588
Firm POC, Principal Investigator

Abstract

There is strong need to develop new robust RF communication systems to support wireless communications for sensor data and instrumentation control in harsh environments. The nuclear industry has many examples of such environments, including geological repositories and facilities such as nuclear power plants. High-quality reliable wireless communications between operators and automated control systems are critical in these facilities, as wireless sensors become more and more prevalent in these operations. However, conventional wireless communications systems based on narrowband and spread spectrum signaling face significant challenges in such environments. This project develops novel ultra-wideband (UWB) based systems to overcome these problems, with security features embedded in the sensor/communications systems. Dirac Solutions Inc., in collaboration with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has developed highly reliable UWB communications systems that have excellent performance in several harsh environments including ships and tunnels. These systems use novel modulation techniques for short pulse UWB communications. The communication units can be integrated with sensors and produced inexpensively in large quantities. In this SBIR project, the utility of this new technology for applications in the nuclear power and related industries will be assessed, optimized, tested, and widely deployed. Major accomplishments included: 1) feasibility of using UWB signals in nuclear plants was tested with existing DSI hardware at the MIT research reactor; 2) an efficient and secure UWB pulse coding technique that improves receiver sensitivity was developed and simulated in MATLAB; 3) physical layer parameters for a robust communications system with respect to multipath and EMI were designed; 4) simulations allowed the integration of AES 128-bit method with the UWB physical layer, providing a fully integrated secure wireless communications design in software; 5) two remote powering hardware prototypes (350 and 550 MHz) were designed, developed and tested for future integration with various sensor. In Phase II, we plan to use the hardware, software, and firmware results to develop a secure UWB communications system based on software-defined radio (SDR). SDR is a better option compared to the fixed architecture hardware systems as the communications parameters such as center frequency, bandwidth, pulse shape, link capacity, and duration between the pulses can be modified in software to adapt to various environments. These UWB systems can be adapted for numerous applications such as in tunnels and nuclear power facilities for voice, data, and instrumentation control. Government applications include military and defense, exfiltration of data in difficult environments, first responder communications systems, and many others. This project builds on the work of the DOE national laboratories to develop a new capability for radio frequency communication and sensors in very difficult environments such as nuclear facilities, tunnels, and urban areas.