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Special Report
Bradley Fellow/Scholar Alumni

 April 2001


Computer Engineering Research

Associated Centers and Laboratories:
Virginia Tech Information Systems Center (VISC)
Internet Technology Innovation Center (ITIC)


Virginia Tech Information Systems Center (VISC)

ECE VISC Faculty
Dong S. Ha, Director
A. Lynn Abbott
James R. Armstrong
Peter M. Athanas
James M. Baker
Robert Broadwater
Luiz A. DaSilva
Nathaniel Davis IV
Leonard A. Ferrari
F. Gail Gray
Mark T. Jones
Scott F. Midkiff
Amitabh Mishra
Binoy Ravindran

Associated ECE Faculty
William T. Baumann
Charles E. Nunnally
Joseph G. Tront
Hugh F. VanLandingham


The Stallion is the second-generation Wormhole Run-time Reconfigurable processor designed in the Configurable Computing Lab, and fabricated through MOSIS using sub-micron technology.

VISC brings together faculty members from electrical and computer engineering, computer science and other departments with a common interest in the design and advanced application of information systems. Information systems include hardware computing and networking devices, software, and knowledge or data that operate to satisfy specialized requirements or to provide generalized computational facilities. Electrical and computer engineering researchers within VISC conduct multidisciplinary research in a variety of areas, including computer vision and image processing, computer networks, system modeling and synthesis, design automation, VLSI design and testing, configurable computing, and embedded systems.

Computer Vision
Computer vision involves the use of computational systems to extract information from images or image sequences. In an on-going project funded by the USDA, for example, VISC researchers are developing methods for detecting defects in computed tomography (CT) images of hardwood logs. Systems similar to this one will ultimately be used in sawmills to determine optimal sawing decisions. In a separate USDA-sponsored project, VISC researchers have developed a laser-based scanning system that is used to analyze rough (unplaned) lumber.

VISC researchers are also interested in high-speed processing for image-based applications. A current project, sponsored by BAE Systems, Inc., requires the analysis of image sequences from an infrared camera. Past projects have included the development of visual tracking systems using motorized stereo cameras, the detection of explosives in x-ray images of luggage, and the analysis of range image data.

Configurable Computing
Configurable computing machines (CCMs), comprising another domain of research within VISC, are emerging as a technology capable of providing high computational performance for diverse applications, including signal processing, simulation, and graphics. High performance is achieved by rapidly reconfiguring the functionality and connectivity of the computing resources to match the requirements of the specific applications. Rapid reconfiguration provides the illusion of having a very large "virtual" hardware platform. With this approach, application properties such as parallelism, locality, and data resolution can be exploited by creating custom operators, pipelines, and interconnection pathways. Experimental, very large scale integrated (VLSI) devices similar to field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) are under development. These devices employ a computing model called wormhole run-time reconfiguration that improves reconfiguration rates and the computational density of configurable computing machines.

VISC researchers are developing a VLSI system for "smart antennas" at handsets. Smart antennas, in which two antennas are deployed in proximity, have been used only at base stations. A main challenge for embedding smart antennas at handsets is high power dissipation due to the high computing need. The VLSI system under development attempts to address the problem through dynamic system reconfiguration. Another project is to develop a VLSI system for low bit-rate wireless video communications. The system has a wide range of applications such as video cellular phones, Internet access, remote surveillance, and mobile patrols. The major focus of the VLSI system is low-power dissipation, so that it can operate for hours or days without recharging the battery. VISC researchers are also developing WCDMA modem chips with multimedia capability for the next generation cellular phones. The modem chips will embed CPU and DSP cores and are estimated to have three to four million transistors on a single chip. In addition, VISC researchers conduct research to develop building blocks for wireless communications such as turbo decoder, Viterbi decoder, variable analog-to-digital converter, SRAM generator, and low-power library cells. The research is currently supported by Advantest Research Laboratories, Lucent Technologies, the National Science Foundation, and NeoReach Inc.

Researchers have also developed methods for the rapid design of digital signal processing systems. Researchers use the VHDL hardware description language to develop performance models that allow design trade-off studies early in the design process and that can be used later to evaluate proposed design changes. A computer-aided design (CAD) tool is under development that will partly automate the partitioning of the software algorithm on the various processors and automatically move information in both directions between the partitioning tool and the performance models.

Researchers have developed a process model graph representation that is used in a CAD tool, PMG, that allows rapid development of tests for VHDL structural models.

Researchers are developing a high-level model validation system in which test bench elements are initially developed using high-level design tools and refined within a library structure. A test plan is prepared using a goal tree system schematic capture system. Specification values are stored in a repository linked to the test plan and goal tree system and indirectly linked to the test bench through a requirements interface. All of these individual elements are integrated to form the test planning system. Graphical user interfaces provide a friendly front end for test planning and simulation.

Other hardware design work focuses on low-power design, which is important for many applications including mobile computing and communications. The scope of research includes power estimation, low-power circuit design, and low-power system design.

Networking/Network Applications
Other computer engineering projects investigate networking and network applications. Goals of this research include improving the functionality, performance, robustness, and security of networks and characterizing the performance of new and emerging protocols and network architectures. Graduate education and research training in networking are the emphasis of the Integrated Research and Education in Advanced Networking (IREAN) program funded by an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) grant from the NSF. This $2.55M, five-year program involves faculty and students from ECE in both Blacksburg and at the Alexandria Research Institute, as well as from Computer Science, Industrial and Systems Engineering, Economics, and the College of Business. Another project, funded by the Office of Naval Research, that involves faculty and students in Blacksburg and Alexandria, investigates inter-operability in rapidly deployed networks. This project is considering wireless and mobility issues, quality of service, security, and network management. In another project, based at the ARI, researchers are examining the performance of Internet protocols over Digital Subscriber Loop (DSL) systems with an emphasis on quality of service (QoS). QoS guarantees are essential for providing video, voice, and other real-time services. In conjunction with the CWT, computer engineering researchers are investigating rapidly deployable broadband wireless systems with funding from the NSF's Digital Government program. Computer engineering faculty also collaborate with the MPRG to look at networking issues in wireless networks. Computer engineering and other departmental and university faculty also participate in the Internet Technology Innovation Center, a four-university partnership funded by Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology.

Computer engineering faculty are also investigating how networks and other technologies can be used to improve and extend learning and collaboration. As part of SUCCEED, an NSF Engineering Education Coalition, researchers investigate technology-based curriculum delivery and collaboration. Through projects funded by Virginia Tech's Center for Innovations in Learning (CIL), computer engineering faculty and students are developing and teaching online courses for the Master of Information Technology degree program.

In another multidisciplinary project involving computer engineering and power engineering, the Distribution Engineering Workstation (DEW) has been developed over a five-year period for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). The workstation is currently being implemented at a number of EPRI member utilities, including some in other countries, such as Chilquinta Energia in Chile, South America. Two utilities, Kansas City Power & Light and Allegheny Power Systems have recently estimated that the use of the workstation will save, approximately $1 million per year. The workstation can integrate data from a dozen different sources within the electric utility, and relate the data via the power distribution system circuit model. Implementing data interfaces at a single utility can easily involve cooperation among IBM mainframe, UNIX and Windows NT computers. Once the data are connected, the workstation can begin to create valuable information concerning efficiency, reliability, peak values, and costs of alternative designs.

Representative Research Projects in Computer Engineering
A Vision System for Hardwood Sawmill Edging/Trimming of Rough Lumber
Automated Analysis of CT Images for the Inspection of Hardwood Logs
Evaluation of Postprocessing Effects in Automated Interpretation of CT Images for Defect Detection in Hardwood Logs
Automatic Control of Parallax Scanning
Quality of Service Management of Transient Computations in Dynamic Real-Time Systems
NAVCIITI Distributed Asynchronous Real-Time Systems
REU Supplement: Development of an Efficient Method for Test Data Compression
Development of Optimal Test and BIST Synthesis Tools
Development of an Efficient Method for Test Data Compression
System-Level Model Validation
Investigation of the Role of PPP Over ATM in the Delivery of Quality of Service Over Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Lines
Scalable Dynamic Mesh Algorithms and Software
Runtime Support for Efficient RTR
Technical Proposal for Jbits to EDIF Translation
Dynamic Sensor Networks
Seamless Mobile Law Enforcement Computer Network
NAVCIITI Secure Conf. Platform
An Integrated Development Environment for Run-Time Reconfiguration Application Development
An Application Presentation interface for a Scalable Configurable Computing Environment


The Bradley Department
of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Virginia Tech

Last Updated, July 15, 2001
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