Spotlight on SPCRC

With high-speed connectivity becoming the latest buzzword and businesses, devices and individuals getting connected like never before, the Signal Processing and Communications Research Centre (SPCRC) at IIIT Hyderabad gets its spot in the sun. Here’s how.  

When the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad (IIITH) was formally launched in 1998, it offered only a BTech degree in Computer Science then. It was in 2003 that the Electronics and Communications Engineering option was added to the BTech program. And simultaneously a new research centre was set up: The Communications and Research Centre (CRC). The major research focuses of CRC were on cognitive networks and wireless sensor networks in the realm of communication engineering.

The Birth of SPCRC

In 2012, a decision was taken to expand the overall scope of the centre and it was renamed to : Signal Processing and Communications Research Centre (SPCRC). “The name may be different but the nature of the centre in terms of what research takes place hasn’t changed from the beginning,” says Prof. Jayanti Sivaswamy, Dean of Academics who also heads the SPCRC. What has changed though is the inclusion of signal processing to the research field which she explains as an umbrella term for an electrical engineering subfield that is not restricted to processing of signals for purposes of communication alone. It includes the analysis, modification and synthesis of signals from sound, images and other devices. For instance, Prof. Sivaswamy’s research involves signal processing in a particular application domain namely images, and specifically medical imagery. Informally known as one of the youngest centres on campus today, thanks to the ratio of young faculty at the centre to overall faculty on campus, SPCRC is now run by a team of 9 members – Prof. Jayanti Sivaswamy, Dr. Anil Kumar Vuppula, Dr. Syed Azeemuddin, Prof. K.R. Sarma, Dr. P. Ubaidulla, Dr. Sachin Chaudhari, Dr. Santosh Nannuru, Dr. Prasad Krishnan and Dr. Lalitha Vadlamani.

5G And Beyond

With wireless communication technology being one of the key areas of research here, a large chunk of the focus is on fifth generation (5G) mobile internet connectivity and beyond it too. Dr. Sachin Chaudhari, who leads this research along with Dr. Lalitha Vadlamani and Dr. Ubaidulla, elaborates by saying that contrary to popular perception, 5G research is not confined to mere enhancement of data speeds. While 5G research is about faster data downloads and upload speeds, wider coverage, and stabler connections, it also involves making better use of the radio spectrum and encompasses many other technologies such as machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, smart cities, e-health, IoT and so on. The SPCRC team is currently working on some very interesting topics in 5G and beyond such as mmWave communication, beamforming, full duplex communication, cognitive radios, polar codes, and wireless energy transfer.

The Internet of Things

Since the design and operation of smart cities requires a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach, a Centre of Excellence (CoE) on IoT for Smart Cities has been recently established on campus which leverages the core and domain strengths of various research centres of IIITH. The CoE is supported by India-EU collaboration on ICT standardization, Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI) and  European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). From the SPCRC point of view, Dr. Sachin Chaudhari is not only coordinating efforts for the CoE but also working on communication network deployment for IoT based on different communication technologies such as Zigbee, WiFi and Bluetooth. From an academic point of view, this is a collaborative effort with Aalto University, Finland; Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) Norway; Laboratory for Analysis and Architecture of Systems (LAAS-CNRS), France; and University of Lulea, Sweden on the research, development, and implementation of signal processing, communication and machine learning algorithms to the application of IoT network in smart cities. He is also leading efforts on a social impact project titled “IoT enabled Smart Cities: Pollution, Health and Governance”. The project which has several other IIITH faculty working alongside, is planned to be deployed in the Gachibowli region, Hyderabad for air pollution monitoring with high spatial and temporal resolution. In addition to this, the health of different Government personnel (such as Traffic Police) and children in the region will be monitored. The air pollution data and the health data will be then correlated to understand the effect of air pollution on health. The project is funded by Pernod-Ricard India Foundation (PRIF) and supported by the State Government and PWC, smart city consultant.

Information Theory and Coding

Any explanation of the nature of work undertaken by Dr. Lalitha Vadlamani and Dr. Prasad Krishnan is incomplete without a reference to Claude Shannon, also known as “the father of Information Theory”. According to these researchers, when anyone talks about the information revolution of the last few decades, it is Shannon’s idea of information that they are talking about. Coding theory achieved the fundamental limit of reliable digital communication in the past 50 years. More recently, coding theory has found applications in numerous areas of research.

Dr. Krishnan works in the area of designing coding theoretic solutions to the problems of communication over broadcast channels. For example, consider a scenario where the same video is requested by multiple users over a shared channel. Coded caching and Index coding are active areas of research in problems dealing with channel codes over broadcast channels. Dr. Vadlamani works in the area of designing codes for distributed storage systems. The operation of a data center assumes that data will never be lost, or that the loss has a probability of being neglected for practical purposes. In today’s scale of storage systems, disk failures occur on a daily basis. The objective is to design codes to store data reliably and efficiently across nodes in a network. There are a couple of ongoing projects funded by the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), Department of Science and Technology, India, such as Design and implementation of codes for distributed storage and distributed computing and High Rate Index Codes for Broadcast Channels. Dr. Vadlamani developed polar encoding and decoding algorithms as part of 5G New Radio for WiSig Networks in 2018.  She recommended a proposal on “Codes for Distributed Computing and Sharding”, which won Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship in 2019. Also, a paper on “Maximally Recoverable Codes with Hierarchical Locality,” co-authored by Dr. Vadlamani and her student won best paper runner-up award in the National Conference on Communications (NCC) 2019. Dr. Krishnan and Dr. Vadlamani have 5 papers in total accepted in one of the most prestigious conferences in the area of coding theory (ISIT 2019). They have been organizing a workshop series termed Hyderabad Workshop on Information Theory (HyWIT) for the past three years with themes such as channel coding, next generation wireless systems and sparse signal processing in 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Signal Processing

Did you know that the Curiosity rover that is exploring Mars is being controlled from earth thanks to signal processing? To quote from an article titled ‘Signal Processing 101’ that appeared in the IEEE Signal Processing Society’s webpage, signal processing is ‘the behind-the-scenes technology transforming and analyzing signals to help us communicate and learn from the technology we use on a daily basis. And this includes cell phones, WiFi, TVs, GPS devices, radar, sonar, radio, and cloud and mobile computing.’As mentioned earlier, signal processing is not restricted to the domain of communications alone. Dr. Santosh Nannuru’s research interests in signal processing are in application areas related to acoustic arrays and sensor networks. Dr. Nannuru’s efforts are focused on tracking of acoustic sources from microphone arrays. These can help smartphones and voice-activated smart home devices in accurate speaker localization and hence better interpretation of voice commands. He also works on sparse arrays where the goal is to extract maximum information about the signals but using much fewer sensors than traditionally required. This helps in reducing the overall cost of the system as well as processing complexity.

SPCRC collaborates with several Indian technical institutes such as IISc, Bangalore and IITs of Hyderabad, Rourkee and Indore respectively as well as international ones such as Purdue, Syracuse University, University of California San Diego (USA), King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Saudi Arabia), Aalto and Tampere University (Finland), NTNU, Norway, Lulea University of Technology (LTU, Sweden), and LAAS-CNRS, France. With a number of cutting-edge research publications, several of them presented at leading global conferences, this ‘young’ centre is creating the right buzz on campus.

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Sarita Chebbi is a minimalist runner, practising yogi and baker of all things whole-wheat, and sugar-free. Currently re-learning her ABC’s…the one that goes: A for algorithm, B for Bayesian, C for convolutional (neural network)….

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