News Release

Zeng to receive funding for collaborative research on secure wireless powered backscatter communication for internet of things applications

Grant and Award Announcement

George Mason University

Kai Zeng, Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, is set to receive funding from the National Science Foundation for a project in which he and his collaborators are proposing novel techniques to secure wireless-powered backscatter communication (WPBC) for Internet-of-Things (IoT) applications. Mason is leading this project with collaborators from Georgia Tech and Aalto University. 

WPBC has emerged as a promising technology to support long-term, low-cost, and low-complexity IoT device communications and networking. Ensuring WPBC security is crucially important to drive its wide range of applications (e.g., smart cities, smart wearables, smart agriculture, smart skins, mobile payment, and supply chain). However, resource constraints on backscatter devices and the broadcast nature of radio transmissions render the security of WPBC challenging.  

Aiming to enhance the resource-constrained WPBC network security, the principal investigators propose novel techniques that exploit physical layer properties of WPBC and machine learning technologies to achieve efficient key agreement, anti-jamming communication, and robust device authentication with joint consideration of energy efficiency, security, and communication performance.  

First, the researchers will develop efficient physical layer key generation techniques to enable low-cost and scalable shared key agreement among a pair of and a group of WPBC devices exploiting wireless channel characteristics.  

Next, they will further develop online learning algorithms to effectively harvest jamming energy to achieve reliable and efficient WPBC in a multi-channel network.  

Finally, they will design efficient and robust device authentication schemes for WPBC in both static and mobile environments.  

"The proposed research is expected to greatly advance the understanding of the design tradeoff between communication and security performance goals in WPBC networks. Under-represented students will be actively involved in the proposed research activities through senior design projects, [as] summer interns, and [via] outreach programs. Research results will be integrated in teaching and disseminated through publications, presentations, and a project website. A significant amount of experimental data will be collected and shared to the wireless communication and networking community," Zeng said. 

Zeng will receive $280,000 from NSF for this project. Funding will begin in October 2021 and will end in late September 2024.  


About George Mason University

George Mason University is Virginia's largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 38,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the last half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. Learn more at


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