Luke’s Life

worky worky

Posted in Uncategorized by lrobison on May 24, 2006

Well I just started work at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) working in the Signal Exploitation and Geolocation Division as a software guy. I've wanted this job for a few years now, and now that I'm here I can say: it's awesome.

Unfortunately I don't know anything about radio waves beyond highschool physics. The first day I talked to my various bosses. One of them is my official boss, but doesn't actually give me any work. Then I have a project leader, who stays in another building. Thentheres my project leaders boss (who also happens to be my dad's boss). I talked to all these people and got a slightly different description of the project I was to be working on from each of them. I decided to follow most closely my project leader's description since he was a math guy and was doing the best at explaining what i was supposed to do and more importantly how.

So the assignment is to take the signals coming from an antenna array with N antennas and try to give each of those antennas what was loosely described as 'weights' in order to boost a signal coming from one direction while cancelling ('nulling') signals we don't want. This is refered to as Beam Steering in the RF (Radio Frequency) community.

So basically I'm designing a way to use a set of antennas as a directional antenna whose direction i can change without actually physically moving anything…. I didn't even know that was possible! Butthats what i was left with the first day, and the promise of a little example code to look at (which still hasn't shown up yet) and four college engineering textbooks with scary looking formulas in them. But none of these books say a word about beam steering, and the internet didn't turn much up either.

Today I got a copy of a little bit of code from my dad and began to step through it peice by peice and with a lot of help from him was able to understand it. Suddenly I saw waves in time domain and in frequency domain and they made sense. I could picture the energy in a wave as a real and imaginary component, and that could be in cartesian or polar form. I understood being in and out of phase and how phase was related to beam steering. I still wasn't quite able to generate even a single beam steering vector, much less a bunch of them with an optimal configuration, but the theory makes sense at least. I can see how it would be done. Its really cool to be learning like this with a direct purpose. Something you don't tend to encounter in undergrad college. I think this might also prompt me to take a signals EE class, and maybe do my undergrad thesis on direction finding systems.

Another relief is that while everyone is trying to work very very hard, there is no constant check-up pressure, and everyone is exceptionally nice. And even though I am working on a standalone demo tool, i still feel like I'm a part of something bigger, with lots of people helping me out. I have a secretary (not to myself mind you..). I have a supply closet with all sorts of free office stuff. My boss will get my any software and even hardware I need (as long as i actually need it)

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