ARA Overview

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ARA1 is an at-scale platform for advanced wireless research, being deployed across the Iowa State University (ISU) campus, City of Ames (where ISU resides), and surrounding research and producer farms as well as rural communities in central Iowa, spanning a rural area with diameter over 60km. It serves as a wireless living lab for smart and connected rural communities, enabling the research and development of rural-focused wireless technologies that provide affordable, high-capacity connectivity to rural communities and industries such as agriculture.  

The above figure demonstrates the ARA wireless living lab vision. At its foundation is the deployment of advanced wireless platforms in real-world agriculture and rural settings, capturing the systems and environmental properties as well as the application and community contexts of rural broadband. For instance, ARA features the future of precision agriculture in both crop and livestock farms, involving automated ground vehicles as well as cameras and nanosensors. With unique wireless platforms ranging from low-UHF massive MIMO to mmWave wireless access and long-distance backhaul, free-space optical, and low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite communications, employing both software-defined-radio (SDR) and programmable commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) platforms, effectively leveraging open-source wireless software platforms such as OpenAirInterface, srsRAN, and SD-RAN, and with a contiguous coverage of hundreds of square miles of rural areas, ARA serves as an at-scale, deeply-programmable infrastructure for rural wireless research in real-world settings.  

Transforming the physical infrastructure into a research instrument supporting rigorous scientific studies and application trials, AraSoft, the software system of ARA, enables reproducible, convenient experimentation and facilitates cross-discipline, cross-community collaborations. For instance, AraSoft transforms the ARA physical infrastructure into software-defined virtual infrastructures which support research in wireless communications and networking, applications technologies such as sensing and control, extended reality (XR), and streaming, as well as their integration with field application pilots.  

Collectively, the ARA hardware and software systems enables cross-discipline, cross-community collaborative research, education, and innovation, thus enabling the forging of the ARA Consortium of public-private partners in advanced wireless systems and applications. These collaborations are expected to generate not only the scientific and technological foundations of advanced wireless but also provide the pathways for its real-world adoption. 

ARA is a part of the National Science Foundation Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) program.  

1 ARA stands for Agriculture and Rural Communities. In astronomy, Ara is a southern constellation of stars.