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South Bend Considering Tech Center Investment

The city of South Bend plans to contribute as much as $3 million to a new wireless resource center, part of a joint effort with the University of Notre Dame to establish the city as a test bed for the next generation of wireless technology.

The money, in the form of redevelopment dollars from the River West Tax Increment Finance, or TIF, District, would be in addition to perhaps $1.7 million from the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

The city recently partnered with the university to apply for the National Science Foundation’s Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research program, which will award four $25 million grants to small U.S. cities to develop wireless test beds for academic and industry researchers.

The proposed technology center would serve as a resource center for a test bed here, Santiago Garces, director of the city’s Office of Innovation, said — a centralized hub for research and learning.

And it would demonstrate a commitment to the program, part of the NSF’s Advanced Wireless Research Initiative, on the part of the city, state and university.

“I think it will be a distinctive and very important part of our proposal,” J. Nicholas Laneman, co-director of the Notre Dame Wireless Institute, said of the center. “I don’t know how we could actually run a test bed without some sort of staged process to get people in, get them trained up.”

The NSF recently began accepting applications for the program and will award the first two of the four grants later this year or early next year, Garces said.

The project here would be known as SBXG, or South Bend “X” Generation, with the “X” serving as a variable for future generations of wireless technology, from 5G to 6G and beyond.

“We want to be successful with the grant,” Garces said. “But we also want to do something that’s useful for researchers and the community.”

On the research side, the center would serve as a mini test bed with its own self-contained network node, Laneman, a professor of electrical engineering at Notre Dame, said — a place for researchers to “try things out, kick the tires a bit, if you will,” before moving to the full test bed.

“It’s a proving ground, a training ground-type of a thing,” Laneman said, adding, “We don’t want a lot of time on the full-blown test bed wasted. We want it to be efficiently utilized.”

On the community side, the center would serve as a resource for education and workforce development, Garces said — a place to experience and interact with the latest in mobile and MIMO, or multiple input-multiple output, technology.

MIMO is seen as the next logical step in the development of wireless technology for the operation of autonomous machines, including drones and self-driving vehicles.

Details about the proposed center have yet to be worked out, Garces said, but it “definitely would be something that is centrally located, probably in Ignition Park or that general area.”

There could be satellite centers in other parts of the city as well, Garces said.

The city intends to request funding for the project from the Redevelopment Commission as soon as next month, Garces said.

Notre Dame may contribute as well, Laneman said, though how and to what extent has yet to be determined.

More broadly, he said, the university is committed to advancing wireless research with the city with or without the NSF.

“We’ve been thinking about turning the campus and parts of South Bend into wireless test bed for some time now,” he said. “I think that puts us in a position to be pretty competitive with this proposal.”

— Erin Blasko, South Bend Tribune

Published originally:
South Bend Tribune (April 25, 2017)