Here in little old Wake Forest there is a state-of-the-art facility with a bunch of cool equipment, some mind-bending anechoic chambers and some cool geeks.
The Wireless Research Center was created with some public funding to get them going but now is more of a public-private funded operation that helps companies launch new ideas involving radio waves.
Larry Steffann, the general manager of the place, spent quite a bit of time telling us about all the really cool acronyms the place works with. Things like CTIA, OTA, A2LA, ESD, RFE, and RSE. We wrote them down but don’t have a clue what they really mean. For those interested the Wireless Research Center website can help fill in the gaps.
The place is located over at 3331 Heritage Trade Drive in Wake Forest and you’ve probably driven by the place never suspecting resident brainiacs were inside. You probably just thought it was like a Radio Shack or something. Ironically in a way it is.
[googlemap src=”https://maps.google.com/maps?client=safari&q=3331+Heritage+Trade+Drive,+Wake+Forest&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x89ac519923df64dd:0x70a52b5a0ae919b9,3331+Heritage+Trade+Dr,+Wake+Forest,+NC+27587&gl=us&ei=WfDzUtulOsrlsATWmYCQCQ&ved=0CCcQ8gEwAA” ]
Inside, small companies can find assistance to take their product ideas with radios from concept through patent. All sorts of services are available as well for other more advanced companies who can visit the facility to just rent time in one of the special chambers. One of those chambers allows technicians to run as much as 30,000 volts of power through a device to check for shock damage. We didn’t think there was any need for us to go in there.
Some of the big expensive stuff there was paid for with grants from the Golden Leaf Foundation. Unfortunately every time we hear that name what it translates to in our brain is Golden Shower Foundation. Yes, we are juvenile. It’s unfortunate, considering the grants the foundation passes out to help companies and people in North Carolina do a lot of good. We were told the Golden Leaf Foundation is responsible for using the massive amount of money from tobacco financial settlements to fund the grants they give.
One such grant was used to help purchase the $270,000 piece of electronic equipment Dr. Josh Wetherington just loves to use. For the sake of clarity, the expensive equipment is the two boxes on the bottom. Josh picked up the stuff on top for about $100.
The big and small testing chambers are used to test all sorts of radio devices like phones, antennas, cellular devices, wireless wifi, etc. Really anything with a radio can be tested there.
The anechoic rooms are lined with pointy foam to remove any sound bouncing around. The devices to test are mounted inside and signals are sent through the device inside to make sure some engineer didn’t totally screw up the design. Otherwise, what’s the point of testing?
By the way we asked, apparently when you hold a cell phone to your head your noggin does absorb a lot of radio waves.
The facility is described as “terribly unique” on the east coast and under the watchful eye of Larry Steffann, several new companies are now using space to help incubate their small businesses. We hoped we’d find a big fluffy electrical engineer sitting on the incubated companies but that room was off-limits.
Packed full of high-tech equipment like the Thermotron below, used to test equipment under a range of environmental conditions, the center can do great things for those with a radio idea.