The project will focus on testing 5G networks for software-centric architectures. Photo via Getty Images

A team of Rice University engineers has secured a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to develop a new way to test 5G networks.

The project will focus on testing 5G networks for software-centric architectures, according to a statement from Rice. The funds come from the NTIA's most recent round of grants, totaling about $80 million, as part of the $1.5 billion Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund. Other awards went to Virginia Tech, Northeastern University, DISH Wireless, and more.

The project at Rice will be led by Rahman Doost-Mohammady, an assistant research professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Ashutosh Sabharwal, the Ernest Dell Butcher Professor of Engineering and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Santiago Segarra, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and an expert in machine learning for wireless network design, is also a co-principal investigator on this project.

"Current testing methodologies for wireless products have predominantly focused on the communication dimension, evaluating aspects such as load testing and channel emulation,” said Doost-Mohammady said in a statement. “But with the escalating trend toward software-based wireless products, it’s imperative that we take a more holistic approach to testing."

The new framework will be used to "assess the stability, interoperability, energy efficiency and communication performance of software-based machine learning-enabled 5G radio access networks (RANs)," according to Rice, known as ETHOS.

Once created, the team of researchers will use the framework for extensive testing using novel machine learning algorithms for 5G RAN with California-based NVIDIA's Aerial Research Cloud (ARC) platform. The team also plans to partner with other industry contacts in the future, according to Rice.

“The broader impacts of this project are far-reaching, with the potential to revolutionize software-based and machine learning-enabled wireless product testing by making it more comprehensive and responsive to the complexities of real-world network environments,” Sabharwal said in the statement. “By providing the industry with advanced tools to evaluate and ensure the stability, energy efficiency and throughput of their products, our research is poised to contribute to the successful deployment of 5G and beyond wireless networks.”

Late last year, the Houston location of Greentown Labs also landed funds from the Department of Commerce. The climatetech startup incubator was named to of the Economic Development Administration's 10th cohort of its Build to Scale program and will receive $400,000 with a $400,000 local match confirmed.

Houston-based nonprofit accelerator, BioWell, also received funding from the Build to Scale program.
Who let the robotic dogs out? AT&T — and a Houston expert explains why in a guest column. Photo via Getty Images

Why this company adopted robotic dog technology

guest column

What has 4 legs, can recognize your face, and precisely obey commands on cue? If you guessed a dog, you’re half right.

I’m referring to robotic dogs, a modern marvel of innovative engineering. AT&T recently expanded our solution offers to include network-connected robotic dogs for public safety, defense, federal and state agencies, local police and fire departments, and commercial customers. We do this in collaboration with a leading provider of robotic dogs, Ghost Robotics.

Robotic dogs are just one way we are proving the innovation and transformational possibilities of 5G and IoT. Network-connected robotic dogs can deliver a broad range of IoT use cases, including many that have previously required putting personnel in dangerous situations. Here’s a quick look at some of the fantastic capabilities network-connected robotic dogs deliver.

  • Our robotic dogs can support public safety agencies and organizations on FirstNet – the nation’s only network built with and for America’s first responders. FirstNet delivers always-on prioritized network connectivity for these “first responder” robotic dogs, helping them stay connected during disaster response and recovery, facilities surveillance, and security operations. They can support search and rescue, venture into areas that could imperil human lives, and support the ability to reestablish local communications services following major infrastructure damage.
  • We can integrate Geocast into the robotic dogs to provide Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) operational command and control so that operators of the dogs can be located virtually anywhere in the world and remotely operate them. Geocast is an AT&T innovation covered by 37 patents.
  • The robotic dogs can be equipped with sensors that allow them to operate autonomously without human intervention. They can be outfitted with drones that can launch and return to their backs while in motion, allowing the drones and dogs to perform missions as an integrated team.
  • Rugged terrain? Water? Not a problem. These robotic dogs can move across natural terrain, including sand, rocks, hills, rubble, and human-built environments, like stairs. They can operate fully submerged in water and, like living dogs, can swim.
  • An early use case adopted by the military involves equipping our robotic dogs with wireless network-connected cameras and deploying them to patrol military bases. Robotic dogs we provided to the Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle are doing just that. Our robotic dogs patrol the flight line and base perimeter at Tyndall, feeding video data in real-time to base personnel who can safely track activity 24/7/365 and support the safety of base operations. They can perform the same task for commercial users, indoors or outdoors. For example, they can patrol the perimeters of large warehouses or outdoor fence lines.
  • They can also support hazmat efforts, inspect mines and high-voltage equipment, and detect explosive devices including improvised explosive devices (IEDs): all while keeping people out of harm’s way.
  • Another interesting use case involves equipping robotic dogs with Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs). LRADs are sound cannons that produce noise at high decibels and varying frequencies. We have discussed with the Navy the possibility of outfitting our robotic dogs with sound cannons to warn off wild boars and feral dog packs that have impeded operating crews working on telecommunications infrastructure located in remote areas of one of its bases.

Commercial applications for network-connected robotic dogs are proliferating. Utility companies, for example, are using robotic dogs equipped with video cameras to perform routine equipment inspections in substations. Human inspection requires operators to shut down the facilities during inspections; the robotic dogs eliminate the need to take this precaution. Allied Market Research projects a $13.4 billion global market for the particular use case of robotic dogs performing such inspections.

Our robotic dogs can also be equipped with technology that extends network connectivity into difficult-to-reach areas or mechanical arms that can grip and carry materials such as tools. Their use cases include Pick and Pack capabilities for warehouse operations to improve order fulfillment efficiency.

And this is just the beginning. We’ve said from the outset that the 5G journey of innovation and solution development would evolve to deliver new ways to conquer many challenges.

Now, we’ve let the dogs out.

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Lance Spencer is a client executive vice president of defense at AT&T Public Sector.

The technology is already getting smarter. The cities won't be far behind. Photo courtesy of AT&T

How 5G and smart cities technology are transforming the city of Houston

guest column

A firefighter stands in front of a burning building in Sunnyside. A drone buzzes overhead to capture video of the parts of the structure they can't get eyes on. Infrared technology helps them see "through" the building to where people may be trapped. Robotic cameras are sent in to provide live video from inside, while a tablet shows blinking dots in real time of where the other firefighters are as they move through the different floors of the building.

An injured civilian is pulled out of the flames. A drone delivers potentially life-saving medication while the paramedics assess the damage. The victim's medical records are shared instantaneously with the hospital, and paramedics are connected live to the emergency room while in-transit. As they make their way to the hospital, traffic signals are a step ahead – lights are green at just the right time on Reed and Almeda, clearing the way for an expedited ride and keeping traffic safe for all until the ambulance arrives at the hospital where medical personnel already know what's needed and are ready to jump into action.

It may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but much of this is already happening. And the parts that aren't commonplace yet may be a reality very soon. We've heard about smart cities technology for some time, and different cities will adopt technology at different paces, but the pieces are finally coming into place.

What has changed to bring this futuristic world into the present? 5G.

There's a lot of noise out there about 5G, and from a consumer standpoint most of the chatter is about speed. Yes, 5G is faster, but here at AT&T we're quick to point out that speed is only the beginning: The capacity and responsiveness of 5G technology is what makes it revolutionary for use cases like these.

According to analyst research reported by CIO Magazine, 4G technology allows around 2,000 devices all connecting at the same time in a 1-kilometer area (0.386 miles). It's the reason that you might have trouble getting a call or a text to go through when you're at a crowded stadium. The network is ready and willing, but too much demand on one location slows things down.

Think about all the connections necessary in the above scenario. The drones, each firefighter, the robotic camera, the tablets, the ambulance and its equipment, sensors in the building, the hospital and all the people waiting there, the traffic signals… the list goes on. Well, 5G technology enables something called Massive IoT and can mean as many as 1 million devices can be connected in that same kilometer range, according to analyst research reported by CIO Magazine. That's game changing. AT&T has already installed its fastest 5G+ technology at the Toyota Center. Hopefully the next time you're there you'll feel the difference for yourself.

But having all those things talk to each other only makes a real difference if the connection is uninterrupted and in as real time as possible. 5G gives us that, as well. Ultra-low latency reduces response times to milliseconds. And when you add near-zero lag time to all those connections, the future becomes the present.

At AT&T we're passionate about public safety. That's why we created FirstNet, the first dedicated network exclusively for first responders, which ensures that the lines of communication stay open when they're needed the most. Harris Health System and Harris County Juvenile Probation are among the agencies already using the network. Going forward, FirstNet could be a crucial part of smart cities technology as capabilities increase.

There are plenty of use cases that 5G will continue to enhance: Think live feeds of police body cameras and locations when in a pursuit, helping increase efficiency and accountability. Think about the first responders themselves. Did you know that heart attack is the leading cause of death among firefighters? Vital signs could be monitored allowing alerts to a fire company of an elevated heart rate in their crew, potentially saving the life of a lifesaver.

5G could be the catalyst that leads to the true adoption of autonomous cars, as millions of sensors allow not only vehicle to vehicle communication, but could also integrate pedestrian traffic, making it safer for everyone as we move towards assisted and eventually self-driving vehicles.

Utility grid sensors could allow power companies to plan more effectively for use, pinpoint outages quickly, and use AI to divert energy and heal itself.

And we all know about Houston traffic. What if there's a world coming soon where we could alleviate just 20 percent of the congestion through smart city technology? In an hour commute, you just got 12 minutes back to spend with your family.

The technology is already getting smarter. The cities won't be far behind.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.

5G could be taking over Texas — and Houston is leading the way. Photo via Getty Images

Houston is poised to lead 5G growth in Texas, according to a new report

leading the stream

Based on one key measure, Houston sits at the forefront of a telecom revolution that could spark a regional economic impact of more than $30 billion.

Data published recently by the Texas Comptroller's Office points out that as of last November and December, Houston led all cities in Texas for the number of so-called "small cells." Small cells are a key component in the rollout of ultra-high-speed 5G wireless communication throughout the Houston area and the country.

As the Texas Comptroller's Office explains, small cells are low-powered antennas that communicate wirelessly via radio waves. They're usually installed on existing public infrastructure like street signs or utility poles, instead of the big communication towers that transmit 4G signals.

The comptroller's tally shows Houston had approved 5,455 small-cell sites as of the November-December timeframe. That dwarfs the total number of sites (1,948) for the state's second-ranked city, Dallas.

"Houston is in the vanguard of small cell permitting in Texas, and not just because it's the state's largest city; advocates have lauded its proactive approach to 5G. Other cities, particularly smaller ones, are lagging well behind," the Comptroller's Office notes.

According to CTIA, a trade group for the wireless communications industry, 5G holds the promise to deliver an economic impact of $30.3 billion in the Houston area and create 93,700 jobs. The group says industries such as health care, energy, transportation, e-commerce, and logistics stand to benefit from the emergence of 5G.

"Maintaining world-class communications infrastructure is a requirement for success in a rapidly changing global economy. Small cells and fiber technology are the key foundational components for network densification and robust 5G. Cities like Houston that have embraced the need for this infrastructure will see the benefits of 5G faster than others," Mandy Derr, government affairs director at Houston-based communications infrastructure REIT Crown Castle International Corp. and a member of the Texas 5G Alliance, tells InnovationMap.

Derr says leaders in Houston have embraced the importance of small-cell technology through "reasonable and effective" regulations and processes aimed at boosting 5G capabilities. Three major providers of wireless service — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — offer 5G to customers in the Houston area.

"More small cells and fiber provide greater and faster access for the masses, enabling the connectivity that is essential to our businesses today — whether it's accepting payments on a mobile card reader, completing a sale on the go, or reliably reaching consumers where they are," Derr says.

In a blog post, Netrality Data Centers, which operates a data center in Houston, proclaims that Houston is shaping up to be a hub of 5G innovation.

"Houston has always been on the frontline," Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a 5G roundtable discussion in 2019. "It is who we are. It is in our DNA. We are a leading city. We didn't wait for somebody else to go to the moon. Or to be the energy capital of the world. Or the largest medical center in the world. But you don't stay at the front if you don't continue to lead."

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Houston medical device company secures $57.7M to fund journey to FDA approval, commercialization

fresh funding

Houston-born and bred medical device company, Procyrion, has completed its series E with a raise of $57.7 million, including the conversion of $10 million of interim financing.

Procyrion is the company behind Aortix, a pump designed to be placed in the descending thoracic aorta of heart failure patients, which has been shown to improve cardiac performance in seriously ill subjects. The money raised will allow the company to proceed with a the DRAIN-HF Study, a pivotal trial that will be used for eventual FDA approval and commercialization.

The Aortix is the brainchild of Houston cardiologist Reynolds Delgado. According to Procyrion’s CSO, Jace Heuring, Delgado, gained some of his experience with devices for the heart working with legendary Texas Heart Institute surgeon O.H. “Bud” Frazier. He filed his first patents related to the Aortix in 2005.

Heuring says that the first prototypes were built in 2011, followed by the final design in 2018. That same year, CEO Eric Fain, a California-based MD and with more than 30 years in the medical device industry, joined the company, primed to bring Aortix to the public. He visits the company’s Houston headquarters, across the street from Central Market, on a regular basis.

The device’s pilot study of 18 patients was completed in 2022. Those encouraging results paved the way for the current study, which will include an enrollment of 134 patients. The randomized study will seek to treat patients with acute decompensated heart failure. Half will be treated with standard-of-care therapy, the other half will be catheterized with an Aortix pump. A separate arm of the study will seek to treat end-stage heart failure patients who would otherwise be deemed too sick for either a transplant or an LVAD permanent pump. Fort-five healthcare centers in the United States will participate, including Texas Heart Institute.

“One of the key characteristics is [the patients] are retaining a lot of fluid,” explains Heuring in a video interview. “And when I say a lot, I mean it could be 25 or 30 or 40 pounds of fluid or more. When we put our pump in, one of the main goals is to reduce that fluid load.”

On average, about 11 liters of fluid came off of each patient. Many of those end-stage patients had previously been considered for both a heart and kidney transplant, but after using the Aortix, their kidneys responded so well that they were able to get only the heart transplant.

“These patients really are in dire straits and come into the hospital and today the only proven therapy to help these patients is to administer high doses of intravenous diuretic and some other cardiac drugs and in about 25 percent of patients those therapies are ineffective,” says Fain.

If Aortix gains approval, these sickest of the sick, usually consigned to hospice care, will have hope.

Thanks to the Series E, led by Houston’s Fannin Partners, returning investors, including Bluebird Ventures, the Aortix is inching closer to commercialization. Besides funding the DRAIN-HR study, Procyrion will also use the funds for internal programs to improve product manufacturability. One more step towards meaning advanced heart failure may not always be a death sentence.

Last month, Atul Varadhachary, managing director of Fannin, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast and alluded to Procyrion's raise. The company was born out of Fannin and still resides in the same building as Fannin.

Aortix is a pump designed to be placed in the descending thoracic aorta of heart failure patients. Photo via Procyrion

Houston startup with unique vascular innovation enrolls subjects in new trial

medical device momentum

A Houston-based company has enrolled the initial subjects in a first-of-its-kind trial.

VenoStent was created to improve vascular surgery outcomes for patients undergoing arteriovenous fistula (AVF) creation surgery.

“When a vein is connected to an artery, as in AVF creation, the vein experiences a 10x increase in pressure and flow that is traumatizing to veins. Many fail to become usable for dialysis,” Geoffrey Lucks, VenoStent COO and co-founder, says in a news release.

Enter VenoStent’s SelfWrap Bioabsorbable Perivascular Wrap, better known as simply SelfWrap. In May 2023, SelfWrap gained FDA approval to begin its US IDE Study, SAVE-FistulaS: The SelfWrap-Assisted ArterioVEnous Fistula Study.

Roughly half a million Americans need hemodialysis just to survive another day. Nearly all of those patients require a vascular access creation surgery, but the procedure has a 50-percent failure rate in its first year. VenoStent and SelfWrap are aimed at improving those odds. It works by using the body’s own healing mechanism.

SelfWrap is a flexible, bioabsorbable vascular wrap that helps to recreate the arterial environment in veins. Over time, the body replaces the SelfWrap with venous tissue.

The company has begun to enroll patients for what will eventually be a 200-subject study. Some of those people have radiocephalic fistulas, others have brachiocephalic ones. This is important, because it will likely prove that the technology works for most types of AVFs. The sites for this clinical trial are at the Surgical Specialists of Charlotte, P.A. in Charlotte, NC, and the Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons in Austin.

“While it’s ambitious and sets a high bar for FDA Approval, we owe it to the chronic kidney disease (CKD) patient community to provide the highest level of clinical evidence,” Timothy Boire, CEO and cofounder, says in the release. “We’re confident based on years of preclinical and clinical data that we’ll demonstrate superiority to standard of care with this breakthrough technology.”

VenoStent recently completed a $16 million Series A, financed by Good Growth Capital and IAG Capital. This is the first-ever randomized controlled trial of a medical device designed to improve outcomes from arteriovenous fistula (AVF) creation surgery in the United States.