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Special Report ­
Information Technology

 April 1997



The Cyber-Bridge

Architect's model of the Advanced Communications and Information Center, spanning the west end of Alumni Mall and connecting to Newman Library.


While politicians in Washington are discussing a bridge to the future, Virginia Tech is building one in Blacksburg out of concrete, steel, fiber optics, computer networks, and state-of-the-art communications technology. Virginia Tech's bridge will evolve with the state of the technology.

The University plans to build a 150,000-square-foot Advanced Communications & Information Technology Center (ACITC) which will include a 15,000-square-foot skybridge that will span the Mall, connecting the building to Newman Library.

The complex, as envisioned, will feature a digital library, 11 computer-integrated classrooms, an electronic reading room, a Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE), educational displays depicting the evolution of information and communications technology, and research facilities for a variety of groups involved in the development, application and effects of communications and information technology.

The structure has been designed to remain flexible and adaptable to new developments. A large central chase will run from top to bottom in the center of the complex, carrying the networking and communications cables. This chase will provide easy access to cables and allow researchers to test new configurations of all sizes.

The state-of-the-art computer-integrated classrooms would enable greater interaction between students and faculty during distance learning classes. "The classrooms in the building will allow us to teach new courses on simulation and design of wireless systems, using state-of-the-art computing and visualization tools and techniques," said Professor Ted Rappaport, founder and director of the Department's Mobile and Portable Radio Research Group (MPRG). "The facility will allow students on and off campus to simultaneously participate, interactively, via computer, in the courses," he said.

Facilities are also planned for university and off-campus corporate and K-12 teachers to test new concepts and to conduct real-time or asynchronous learning sessions. "One of the things that makes this building so interesting is that it is a testbed for new teaching technologies. We will be doing R&D on the way we teach and students learn," said University spokesman Larry Hincker.

Real-Life Digital Experience

Perhaps the greatest benefit to electrical and computer engineers is that the building should serve as a real-world, ever-evolving testbed for new technologies - complete with users of all levels of computer experience, from novices to experts.

"This is an advantage of locating many of these activities in the same place," said Professor Scott Midkiff. "Students who know digital technology can interact informally and on a daily basis with students looking for solutions in high-performance computing, networking and graphics. Our students then can determine new opportunities and solutions based on core digital technology."

The Department's Virginia Tech Information Systems Center (VISC) plans to house its Digital Technology Laboratory in the complex. In the laboratory, researchers will investigate and provide capabilities for designing, prototyping, implementing and testing hardware and hardware/software systems for communication and information systems. "Our lab will help others in the Center to design digital circuits to support multimedia high-speed communications and servers," said Professor Jim Armstrong, VISC director.

"The Center will provide a number of technical challenges for our faculty and students," he continued. "For example, it's one thing to talk about high speed servers for high-graphics digital libraries, and quite another to actually establish and operate the network."

The MPRG plans to use the roof of the building to conduct microcell and Personal Communication Services (PCS) experimentation on antennas. "We also will be testing new signal processing techniques that use multiple antennas to improve signal reception in mobile communication systems," said Rappaport.

"We will be testing systems from within ACITC, from building to building and between buildings," he explained. "The surrounding buildings will provide a 'real world' campus environment that is perfect for the study of wireless network deployment and experimentation."

Groundbreaking on the building is planned for September 12, 1997.

The Bradley Department of Electrical Engineering
Virginia Tech

Last Updated, June 10, 1997
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