The development of increasingly sophisticated techniques and tools to sequence, synthesize and manipulate genetic material has led to the rapidly maturing discipline of synthetic biology. To date, work in synthetic biology has focused primarily on manipulating individual species of domesticated organisms to perform specific tasks, such as producing medicines or fuels. These species tend to be both relatively fragile (requiring precise environmental conditions to survive) and relatively unstable (subject to losing their engineered advantages through genetic attrition or recombination). The costs of maintaining required environmental controls and detecting and compensating for genetic alterations are substantial and severely limit the widespread application of synthetic biology to U.S. national security missions.
It is difficult to imagine the modern world without the Global Positioning System (GPS), which provides real-time positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) data for countless military and civilian uses. Thanks in part to early investments that DARPA made to miniaturize GPS technology, GPS today is ubiquitous. It’s in cars, boats, planes, trains, smartphones and wristwatches, and has enabled advances as wide-ranging as driverless cars, precision munitions, and automated supply chain management.
DARPA created its Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program to create a new paradigm for more routine, responsive and affordable space operations. The agency has taken its first major step toward that goal by awarding prime contracts for Phase 1 of XS-1 to three companies: The Boeing Company, Masten Space Systems and Northrop Grumman Corporation.
DARPA’s Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program recently conducted the first successful live-fire tests demonstrating in-flight guidance of .50-caliber bullets. This video shows EXACTO rounds maneuvering in flight to hit targets that are offset from where the sniper rifle is aimed. EXACTO’s specially designed ammunition and real-time optical guidance system help track and direct projectiles to their targets by compensating for weather, wind, target movement and other factors that could impede successful hits.
Military platforms—such as ships, aircraft and ground vehicles—rely on advanced materials to make them lighter, stronger and more resistant to stress, heat and other harsh environmental conditions. Currently, the process for developing new materials to field in platforms frequently takes more than a decade. This lengthy process often means that developers of new military platforms are forced to rely on decades-old, mature materials because potentially more advanced materials are still being tested and aren’t ready to be implemented into platform designs.
DARPA has selected two universities to initially lead the agency’s Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program, which aims to develop and test wireless, implantable “neuroprosthetics” that can help servicemembers, veterans, and others overcome memory deficits incurred as a result of traumatic brain injury (TBI) or disease.
Today's dismounted squads use many different technologies to gather and share information. In many instances, however, these valuable but disparate inputs are not well integrated, leaving squad members without the degree of real-time situational awareness and support for decision-making that warfighters typically experience while on board aircraft and ships and in vehicles.
Many existing compact, high-data-rate millimeter-wave wireless communications systems use integrated circuits (ICs) made with gallium arsenide (GaAs) or gallium nitride (GaN). These circuits provide high power and efficiency in small packages but are costly to produce and difficult to integrate with silicon electronics that provide most other radio functions. Silicon ICs are less expensive to manufacture in volume than those with gallium compounds but until now have not demonstrated sufficient power output and efficiency at millimeter-wave frequencies used for communications and many other military applications, such as radar and guidance systems.
From June 5-6, 2015, California will be the stage for the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals. Teams from around the world will meet at Fairplex in Pomona to compete for the $2 million prize to be awarded to the team that best demonstrates human-supervised robot technology for disaster response.
For decades, researchers’ understanding of brain structure and function has remained fragmented due to difficulties integrating observations and insights at the levels of individual brain cells, neural circuits and systems-level information processing. Now a new research protocol promises to help overcome this barrier by allowing scientists to visualize the brain across multiple scales. As described in a newly published scientific report, DARPA-funded performers have developed a new protocol that incorporates two major technological advances that enable more efficient application of the CLARITY method to study brain tissue.
Scientists and engineers in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office (DSO) promote and exploit new discoveries across the frontiers of physics, chemistry, and mathematics to identify and accelerate potentially game-changing technologies for U.S. national security. After recently spinning off biological technologies into a new office, DSO’s investment portfolio, which continues to create new materials and explore the boundaries of physical phenomena, is expanding to include novel approaches to understanding, predicting, designing, and developing engineered complex systems.
DARPA and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on a joint DARPA/Navy research and development program called “Tern.” This joint effort builds upon the existing work of DARPA’s Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node program, or “TERN,” which has been exploring concepts for a long-endurance and long-range aircraft that would operate from a variety of Navy ships.
In the heat of battle, lives can depend on being able to coordinate troop positions safely while directing aircraft to provide close air support for ground forces. DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) program aims to help overcome those challenges by providing warfighters with advanced digital tools for situational awareness and targeting in place of legacy communications systems and traditional paper maps.
DARPA’s Z-Man program has demonstrated the first known human climbing of a glass wall using climbing devices inspired by geckos. The historic ascent involved a 218-pound climber ascending and descending 25 feet of glass, while also carrying an additional 50-pound load in one trial, with no climbing equipment other than a pair of hand-held, gecko-inspired paddles. The novel polymer microstructure technology used in those paddles was developed for DARPA by Draper Laboratory of Cambridge, Mass.
Computer security experts from academia, industry and the larger security community have organized themselves into more than 30 teams to compete in DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge—a first-of-its-kind tournament designed to speed the development of automated security systems able to defend against cyberattacks as fast as they are launched. DARPA also announced today that it has reached an agreement to hold the 2016 Cyber Grand Challenge final competition in conjunction with DEF CON, one of the largest computer security conferences in the world.
Since its inception in 1992, DARPA’S Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) has helped create and prevent strategic surprise through its investments in compact microelectronic components such as microprocessors, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), and photonic devices. MTO’s revolutionary work applying these advanced capabilities in areas such as wide-band gap materials, phased array radars, high-energy lasers and infrared imaging have helped the United States establish and maintain technological superiority for more than two decades.
Work on DARPA’s Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) program is set to begin with teams led by UC San Francisco (UCSF), and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). The SUBNETS program seeks to reduce the severity of neuropsychological illness in service members and veterans by developing closed-loop therapies that incorporate recording and analysis of brain activity with near-real-time neural stimulation. The program, which will use next-generation devices inspired by current Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) technology, was launched in support of President Obama’s brain initiative.
Information technology (IT) is a key enabler for the Defense Department (DoD) and has been a focus area for DARPA since its founding in 1958. DARPA’s contributions to modern IT are well-known—perhaps most notably, DARPA is generally credited with developing and prototyping the technology for what is now known as the Internet. But while the DoD currently enjoys IT superiority, that superiority cannot be taken for granted.
DARPA launched the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program with a radical goal: gain U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for an advanced electromechanical prosthetic upper limb with near-natural control that enhances independence and improves quality of life for amputees. Today, less than eight years after the effort was launched, that dream is a reality; the FDA approved the DEKA Arm System.
Researchers working on DARPA’s Quantum Effects in Biological Environments (QuBE) program have shown that the electromagnetic noise that permeates modern urban environments can disrupt a bird’s internal magnetic compass. The findings settle a decades-long debate into whether low-level, artificial electric and magnetic fields can affect biological processes in higher vertebrates. For DARPA, the results hint at a new class of bio-inspired sensors at the intersection of biology and quantum physics.
DARPA works to ensure the technological superiority of U.S. military forces, and the agency continually seeks new sources of talent to accomplish that goal. The nation’s three military Service academies are a promising source of that talent. These institutions immerse the next generation of military leaders in a unique environment that blends academic excellence and deep understanding of current and future military needs. To better cultivate the great potential of these young officers-to-be and encourage their career-long collaboration with DARPA, the agency last week hosted the first DARPA Service Academies Innovation Challenge.
Preserving and expanding the technological superiority of the U.S. military requires sustaining a pipeline of talented scientists, engineers and mathematicians who pursue high-risk, high-payoff fundamental research in disciplines that address critical Department of Defense (DoD) and national security needs. DARPA’s Young Faculty Award (YFA) program supports that goal by helping promising tenure-track faculty members better understand the federal research and development process generally and Department of Defense (DoD) and national security research needs in particular.
To understand the meaning of “proprioception,” try a simple experiment. Close your eyes and lift your right arm above your head. Then, move it down so that it’s parallel to the ground. Make a fist and release it. Move it forward, and then swing it around behind you like you’re stretching. Finally, freeze in place, open your eyes, and look. Is your arm positioned where you thought it would be?
In the 1940s, researchers learned how to precisely control the frequency of microwaves, which enabled radio transmission to transition from relatively low-fidelity amplitude modulation (AM) to high-fidelity frequency modulation (FM). This accomplishment, called microwave frequency synthesis, brought about many advanced technologies now critical to the military, such as wireless communications, radar, electronic warfare, atomic sensors and precise timing. Today, optical communications employ techniques analogous to those of pre-1940 AM radio, due to the inability to control frequency precisely at optical frequencies, which are typically 1,000 times higher than microwaves. The higher frequency of light, however, offers potential for 1,000-fold increase in available bandwidth for communications and other applications.
Military aircraft today have evolved over a period of decades to have ever more automated capabilities, improving mission success and safety. At the same time, these aircraft still present challenging and complex interfaces to operators, and despite demanding training regimens, operators can experience extreme workload during emergencies and other unexpected situations. Avionics and software upgrades can help, but can cost tens of millions of dollars per aircraft, which limits the rate of developing, testing and fielding new automation capabilities for those aircraft.
DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO) invests in innovative platforms, weapons, integrated systems and critical systems components that often incorporate emerging advanced technologies, all designed to preserve and extend decisive advantages for the U.S. military. Constantly evolving technologies, shifting warfighter mission requirements and limited budgets, however, mean TTO must always seek new ways to leverage innovation while fulfilling its duties.
Missions in remote, forward operating locations often suffer from a lack of connectivity to tactical operation centers and access to valuable intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data. The assets needed for long-range, high-bandwidth communications capabilities are often unavailable to lower echelons due to theater-wide mission priorities. DARPA’s Mobile Hotspots program aims to help overcome this challenge by developing a reliable, on-demand capability for establishing long-range, high-capacity reachback that is organic to tactical units. The program is building and demonstrating a scalable, mobile millimeter-wave communications backhaul network mounted on small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and providing a 1 Gb/s capacity. DARPA performers recently completed the first of three phases in which they developed and tested key technologies to be integrated into a complete system and flight tested in subsequent phases.
The process of designing, developing, building and deploying satellites is long and expensive. Satellites today cannot follow the terrestrial paradigm of “assemble, repair, upgrade, reuse,” and must be designed to operate without any upgrades or repairs for their entire lifespan—a methodology that drives size, complexity and ultimately cost. These challenges apply especially to the increasing number of satellites sent every year into geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), approximately 22,000 miles above the Earth. Unlike objects in low Earth orbit (LEO), such as the Hubble Space Telescope, satellites in GEO are essentially unreachable with current technology.
Reliable wireless communications today requires careful allocation of specific portions of the electromagnetic spectrum to individual radio networks. While pre-allocating spectrum is effective in benign environments, radios remain vulnerable to inadvertent interference from other emitters and intentional jamming by adversaries.
Technology, like biology, constantly evolves. It is DARPA’s mission to stay ahead of the shifting technology curve by making critical, early investments in areas that cut across fields of research and enable revolutionary new capabilities for U.S. national security. Now DARPA is poised to give unprecedented prominence to a field of research that can no longer be considered peripheral to technology’s evolving nature. Starting today, biology takes its place among the core sciences that represent the future of defense technology.
Cost and complexity limit the number of ships and weapon systems the Navy can support in forward operating areas. A natural response is to offset these costs and risks with unmanned and distributed systems. But how do such systems get there in the first place?
Team SCHAFT, the highest-scoring team at the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials in December 2013, has elected to switch to the self-funded Track D of the program. The team was recently acquired by Google Inc.
DARPA’s VTOL Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program seeks to enable radical improvements in vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) flight through innovative cross-pollination between the fixed-wing and rotary-wing worlds. In an important step toward that goal, DARPA has awarded prime contracts for Phase 1 of VTOL X-Plane to four companies: Aurora Flight Sciences, Boeing, Karem Aircraft and Sikorsky. Three of the four—Boeing (top), Karem Aircraft (middle) and Sikorsky (bottom)—provided concept images of their proposed designs.
At the break of dawn on March 13, 2004, 15 vehicles left a starting gate in the desert outside of Barstow, Calif., to make history in the DARPA Grand Challenge, a first-of-its-kind race to foster the development of self-driving ground vehicles. The immediate goal: autonomously navigate a 142-mile course that ran across the desert to Primm, Nev. The longer-term aim was to accelerate development of the technological foundations for autonomous vehicles that could ultimately substitute for men and women in hazardous military operations, such as supply convoys.
MUSE seeks to leverage deep program analyses and big data analytics to create a public database containing mined inferences about salient properties, behaviors and vulnerabilities of software drawn from the hundreds of billions of lines of open source code available today. The program aims to make significant advances in the way software is built, debugged, verified, maintained and understood, and to enable the automated repair of existing programs and synthesis of new ones.
High-energy lasers (HEL) have the potential to benefit a variety of military missions, particularly as weapons or as high-bandwidth communications devices. However, the massive size, weight and power requirements (SWaP) of legacy laser systems limit their use on many military platforms. Even if SWaP limitations can be overcome, turbulence manifested as density fluctuations in the atmosphere increase laser beam size at the target, further limiting laser target irradiance and effectiveness over long distances.
With an eye on the urgent need to develop breakthrough technologies for national security, the President’s requested budget of $2.915 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) would allow the agency to pursue promising new ideas and help to restore some of the reductions in the agency’s budget from prior years.
Raman spectroscopy uses lasers to measure molecular vibrations to quickly and accurately identify unknown substances. Ultraviolet (UV) lasers have the optimal wavelength for Raman spectroscopy at stand-off distances, but the Defense Department’s (DoD) current UV-based tactical detection systems are large and expensive and have limited functionality. A new DARPA program seeks technology that may make UV-based detection equipment more readily available in the field.
Used and non-authentic counterfeit electronic components are widespread throughout the defense supply chain; over the past two years alone, more than one million suspect parts have been associated with known supply chain compromises
As commercial technologies become more advanced and widely available, adversaries are rapidly developing capabilities that put our forces at risk. To counter these threats, the U.S. military is developing systems-of-systems concepts in which networks of manned and unmanned platforms, weapons, sensors, and electronic warfare systems interact over robust satellite and tactical communications links. These approaches offer flexible and powerful options to the warfighter, but the complexity introduced by the increase in the number of employment alternatives creates a battle management challenge.
During the 1854 cholera epidemic in London, Dr. John Snow plotted cholera deaths on a map, and in the corner of a particularly hard-hit quadrangle of buildings was a water pump. Snow's maps, a 19th-century version of big data, suggested an association between cholera and the pump, but the germ theory of disease had not yet been invented and it took human ingenuity to realize that the pump was a causal mechanism of disease transmission.
DARPA’s Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) program aims to develop and demonstrate a modular transportation system built around a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) flight module operated as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The flight module would carry one of several different types of detachable mission modules, each designed for a specific purpose, such as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) (top left), casualty evacuation (top right) and cargo resupply (top center and bottom). The program seeks to provide flexible, terrain-independent transportation that avoids ground-based threats, in turn supporting expedited, cost-effective operations and improving the likelihood of mission success.
Today's web searches use a centralized, one-size-fits-all approach that searches the Internet with the same set of tools for all queries. While that model has been wildly successful commercially, it does not work well for many government use cases. For example, it still remains a largely manual process that does not save sessions, requires nearly exact input with one-at-a-time entry, and doesn't organize or aggregate results beyond a list of links. Moreover, common search practices miss information in the deep web—the parts of the web not indexed by standard commercial search engines—and ignore shared content across pages.
In today’s rapidly evolving mission environments, warfighters need new vehicles, weapons and other systems fielded quickly. Current design and development approaches, however, are unable to deliver those systems in a timely manner. To help overcome these challenges, DARPA’s Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) portfolio of programs is working to develop revolutionary approaches for the design, testing and manufacturing of complex defense systems, with the goal of shortening development timelines by five times or more. Thanks to strong early test results and a new opportunity to transition the technology, DARPA has decided to speed its current AVM successes to the defense industrial base in 2014—years earlier than originally planned.
DARPA has invested in many programs that sponsor fundamental and applied research in areas of computer science, which have led to new advances in theory as well as practical software. The R&D community has asked about the availability of results, and now DARPA has responded by creating the DARPA Open Catalog, a place for organizing and sharing those results in the form of software, publications, data and experimental details.
Please direct all media queries to Outreach@darpa.mil