Conventional optical imaging systems today largely limit themselves to the measurement of light intensity, providing two-dimensional renderings of three-dimensional scenes and ignoring significant amounts of additional information that may be carried by captured light. For example, many photons traverse complex paths punctuated by multiple bounces prior to entering the aperture of a camera or other imager—a process through which these photons pick up information about their surroundings. Beyond such directional variability, light enjoys other aspects or degrees of freedom—including variations in propagation time, polarization state and spectral content, as well as wave-related properties such as coherence, diffraction and interference—all of which provide potential mechanisms by which light can acquire and convey information. Most of this information remains untapped today.
DARPA’s High-Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) has demonstrated sufficient laser power and beam quality to advance to a series of field tests. The achievement of government acceptance for field trials marks the end of the program’s laboratory development phase and the beginning of a new and challenging set of tests against rockets, mortars, vehicles and surrogate surface-to-air missiles at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
Many essential military capabilities—including autonomous navigation, chemical-biological sensing, precision targeting and communications—increasingly rely upon laser-scanning technologies such as LIDAR (think radar that uses light instead of radio waves). These technologies provide amazing high-resolution information at long ranges but have a common Achilles heel: They require mechanical assemblies to sweep the laser back and forth. These large, slow opto-mechanical systems are both temperature- and impact-sensitive and often cost tens of thousands of dollars each—all factors that limit widespread adoption of current technologies for military and commercial use.
The past 10 years have seen an explosion of robotics advances from small businesses and individuals, thanks in part to lower manufacturing costs and the global rise of community workshops such as makerspaces and hackerspaces, which serve as incubators for rapid, low-cost collaboration and innovation. Unfortunately, the small-scale robotics community has tended to fly under the radar of traditional federal agencies and commercial technology providers, which generally rely on multi-year, multi-million-dollar contracts for technology development. This disconnect means that the U.S. government is not benefiting from some of the most cutting-edge robotics developers in the nation.
Five short videos prepared by U.S. high school students have been selected as winning entries in DARPA’s Robots4Us video contest and will be featured at a June 7 invitational workshop on the future of robotics. DARPA launched the contest to stimulate student consideration of the potential societal implications of robotics.
Imaging of Earth from satellites in space has vastly improved in recent years. But the opposite challenge—using Earth-based systems to find, track and provide detailed characterization of satellites and other objects in high orbits—has frustrated engineers even as the need for space domain awareness has grown. State-of-the-art imagery of objects in low Earth orbit (LEO), up to 2,000 km (1,200 miles) high, can achieve resolution of 1 pixel for every 10 cm today, providing relatively crisp details. But image resolution for objects in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), a favorite parking place for space assets roughly 36,000 km (22,000 miles) high, drops to just 1 pixel for every 2 meters, meaning many GEO satellites appear as little more than fuzzy blobs when viewed from Earth. Enabling LEO-quality images of objects in GEO would greatly enhance the nation’s ability to keep an eye on the military, civilian and commercial satellites on which society has come to depend, and to coordinate ground-based efforts to make repairs or correct malfunctions when they occur.
Tern, a joint program between DARPA and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR), seeks to give forward-deployed small ships the unprecedented capacity to serve as mobile launch and recovery platforms for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial systems (UAS). These systems would provide long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and other capabilities over greater distances and time periods than helicopters and would require far less dedicated infrastructure resources than conventional fixed-wing manned and unmanned aircraft.
A new DARPA program aims to investigate the role of neural “replay” in the formation and recall of memory, with the goal of helping individuals better remember specific episodic events and learned skills. The 24-month fundamental research program, Restoring Active Memory Replay or RAM Replay, is designed to develop novel and rigorous computational methods to help investigators determine not only which brain components matter in memory formation and recall but also how much they matter. To ensure real-world relevance, those assessments will be validated through performance on DoD-relevant tasks instead of conventional computer-based behavioral paradigms commonly used to assess memory in laboratory settings. New knowledge and paradigms for memory assessment and formation could translate into improved rehabilitation and recovery for injured warfighters challenged by impaired memory.
DARPA’s Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program, which developed a self-steering bullet to increase hit rates for difficult, long-distance shots, completed in February its most successful round of live-fire tests to date. An experienced shooter using the technology demonstration system repeatedly hit moving and evading targets. Additionally, a novice shooter using the system for the first time hit a moving target.
State-of-the-art military sensors today rely on “active electronics” to detect vibration, light, sound or other signals. That means they constantly consume power, with much of that power and time spent processing what often turns out to be irrelevant data. This power consumption limits sensors’ useful lifetimes to a few weeks or months when operating from state-of-the-art batteries, and has slowed the development of new sensor technologies and capabilities. Moreover, the chronic need to redeploy power-depleted sensors is not only costly and time-consuming but also increases warfighter exposure to danger.
As modern software systems continue inexorably to increase in complexity and capability, users have become accustomed to periodic cycles of updating and upgrading to avoid obsolescence—if at some cost in terms of frustration. In the case of the U.S. military, having access to well-functioning software systems and underlying content is critical to national security, but updates are no less problematic than among civilian users and often demand considerable time and expense. That is why today DARPA announced it will launch an ambitious four-year research project to investigate the fundamental computational and algorithmic requirements necessary for software systems and data to remain robust and functional in excess of 100 years.
Close air support (CAS)—delivery of airborne munitions to support ground forces—is difficult and dangerous because it requires intricate coordination between combat aircrews and dismounted ground forces (for example, joint terminal attack controllers, or JTACs). DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) program focuses on technologies to enable sharing of real-time situational awareness and weapons systems data through approaches designed to work with almost any aircraft. PCAS envisions more precise, prompt and easy air-ground coordination for CAS and other missions under stressful operational conditions and seeks to minimize the risk of friendly fire and collateral damage by enabling the use of smaller munitions to hit smaller, multiple or moving targets. This capability is critically important in urban environments.
Less than one week after releasing Breakthrough Technologies for National Security (http://go.usa.gov/3rut4), DARPA’s latest summary of the Agency’s mission, accomplishments and funding priorities for extending its legacy of technological disruption, the Agency today announced four major new programs—evidence of DARPA’s commitment to pursuing high-risk/high-reward research and making the impossible possible.
In every population that encounters an infectious organism, a few individuals prove to be resilient—unfazed by that pathogen because they are either resistant to it (their immune systems keep the pathogen from multiplying to dangerous levels) or tolerant (they don’t get as sick as they otherwise might despite carrying high pathogen loads). Conventional disease treatments such as antibiotics have almost exclusively sought to emulate natural resistance by keeping patients’ pathogen levels as low as possible. This approach has been incredibly successful but has an increasingly serious downside: Any pathogens that survive a particular treatment can defy it from then on, giving rise to new antibiotic-resistant strains. The rising prevalence of multi-drug-resistant pathogens, as well as emerging biological threats, makes developing new medical countermeasures a national security priority.
For decades, the United States has successfully countered the threats of competitor nations by harnessing advanced technologies to create exceedingly robust and capable military platforms. But as advanced technologies have become more readily available to adversaries on commercial markets, the Nation’s focus on ever more complex weapons systems has become not just a strength but also a weakness. Effective as they are, U.S. military systems today are often too expensive to procure in the quantities needed, and may take so long to develop that the electronic components they contain are obsolete by the time they become operational.
DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program seeks to develop a new type of unmanned surface vessel that could independently track adversaries’ ultra-quiet diesel-electric submarines over thousands of miles. One of the challenges that the ACTUV program is addressing is development of autonomous behaviors for complying with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, known as COLREGS. Substantial progress has been made in developing and implementing those behaviors. Currently, ACTUV’s system for sensing other vessels is based on radar, which provides a “90% solution” for detecting other ships. However, radar is less suitable for classification of the type of other vessels, for example determining whether the vessel is a powered vessel or a sailboat. Additionally, one of the requirements of COLREGS is to maintain “a proper look-out by sight and hearing.”
DARPA today released Breakthrough Technologies for National Security, a biennial report summarizing the Agency’s historical mission, current and evolving focus areas and recent transitions of DARPA-developed technologies to the military Services and other sectors. The report’s release coincided with testimony by DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar before the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, at a hearing entitled “Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2016 Science and Technology Programs: Laying the Groundwork to Maintain Technological Superiority.” The full report is available at http://go.usa.gov/3rut4. Live Link
DARPA has awarded prime contracts for Phase 2 of Tern, a joint program between DARPA and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR). The goal of Tern is to give forward-deployed small ships the ability to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial systems (UAS). These systems could provide long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and other capabilities over greater distances and time periods than is possible with current assets, including manned and unmanned helicopters. Further, a capacity to launch and retrieve aircraft on small ships would reduce the need for ground-based airstrips, which require significant dedicated infrastructure and resources. The two prime contractors selected by DARPA are AeroVironment, Inc., and Northrop Grumman Corp.
Whether designed to predict the spread of an epidemic, understand the potential impacts of climate change, or model the acoustical signature of a newly designed ship hull, computer simulations are an essential tool of scientific discovery. By using mathematical models that capture the complex physical phenomena of the real world, scientists and engineers can validate theories and explore system dynamics that are too costly to test experimentally and too complicated to analyze theoretically. Over the past half century, as supercomputers got faster and more powerful, such simulations became ever more accurate and useful. But in recent years even the best computer architectures haven’t been able to keep up with demand for the kind of simulation processing power needed to handle exceedingly complex design optimization and related problems.
DARPA announced plans today to research and develop tools for online privacy, one of the most vexing problems facing the connected world as devices and data proliferate beyond a capacity to be managed responsibly. Named for former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who while a student at Harvard law school co-developed the concept of a “right to privacy” in a seminal article under that title, the new program seeks to explore how users can understand, interact with and control data in their systems and in cyberspace through the expression of simple intentions that reflect purpose, acceptable risk and intended benefits such as "only share photos with approved family and friends.”
In the latest step in a decades-long process through which automation has taken on increasing responsibilities in the cockpit—allowing pilots to focus on flight tasks demanding their unique capabilities—DARPA has awarded three contracts for its Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program. ALIAS envisions a tailorable, drop‐in, removable kit that would enable high levels of automation in existing aircraft and facilitate reduced need for onboard crew. The program intends to leverage the considerable advances that have been made in aircraft automation systems over the past 50 years, as well as the advances that have been made in remotely piloted aircraft technologies, to help shift and refocus pilot workloads, augment mission performance and improve aircraft safety.
DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO) seeks to preserve and extend decisive advantages for the U.S. military through innovative systems or systems components that incorporate new or emerging technologies. To help accomplish these goals, TTO has scheduled a TTO Proposers Day at DARPA’s offices in Arlington, Va., to be held on Wednesday, April 29, 2015, and Thursday, April 30, 2015, at which potential performers can learn more about TTO’s technical objectives. Those objectives will be outlined in detail in advance of the Proposers Day in a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) calling for executive summaries, white papers and proposals for advanced research, development and demonstration of innovative systems for military missions.
The international robotics community has turned out in force for the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals, a competition of robots and their human supervisors to be held June 5-6, 2015, at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., outside of Los Angeles. In this demonstration event, robots will be tested on capabilities that could enable them to provide assistance in future natural and man-made disasters. Fourteen new teams from Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, the People’s Republic of China, South Korea, and the United States qualified to join 11 previously announced teams. In total, 25 teams will now vie for a chance to win one of three cash prizes totaling $3.5 million at the DRC Finals.
The lifelong human imperative to communicate is so strong that people talk not only to other people but also to their pets, their plants and their computers. Unlike pets and plants, computers might one day reciprocate. DARPA's new Communicating with Computers (CwC) program aims to develop technology to turn computers into good communicators.
DARPA and the Navy recently agreed to locate a fabrication laboratory, or Fab Lab, at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC, pronounced “mar-mack”) in Norfolk, Virginia, under DARPA’s Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach Two (MENTOR2) program.
How will the growing use of robots change people’s lives and make a difference for society? How do teens want robots to make a difference in the future? As ever more capable robots evolve from the realm of science fiction to real-world devices, these questions are becoming increasingly important. And who better to address them than members of the generation that may be the first to fully co-exist with robots in the future? Through its new Robots4Us student video contest, DARPA is asking high school students to address these issues creatively by producing short videos about the robotics-related possibilities they foresee and the kind of robot-assisted society in which they would like to live.
Warfighters in aircraft, on ships and in ground vehicles have benefited tremendously from technological advances in recent decades, with advanced capabilities ranging from real-time situational awareness to precision armaments. But many of these benefits depend on equipment with substantial size, weight and power requirements, and so have remained unavailable to dismounted infantry squads who must carry all their equipment themselves.
Initiated in 2009 in collaboration with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, DARPA’s Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) program has been investing in advanced technologies to provide a leap ahead in U.S. surface warfare capability. The LRASM program aims to reduce dependence on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, network links and GPS navigation in electronic warfare environments while providing innovative terminal survivability approaches and precision lethality in the face of advanced countermeasures. After LRASM prototypes completed two successful flight tests in 2013, LRASM transitioned from a DARPA technology demonstration program to a formal U.S. Navy program of record in February 2014, with fielding set for 2018.
Despite recent advances in technology for upper-limb prostheses, artificial arms and hands are still unable to provide users with sensory feedback, such as the “feel” of things being touched or awareness of limb position and movement. Without this feedback, even the most advanced prosthetic limbs remain numb to users, a factor that impairs the limbs’ effectiveness and their wearers’ willingness to use them. In a step toward overcoming these challenges, DARPA has awarded prime contracts for Phase 1 of its Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) program.
Through its Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program, DARPA has been developing new concepts and architectures to get small satellites into orbit more economically on short notice. Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, provided an update on ALASA today at the 18th Annual Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, D.C. Tousley discussed several key accomplishments of the program to date, including successful completion of Phase 1 design, selection of the Boeing Company as prime contractor for Phase 2 of the program, which includes conducting 12 orbital test launches of an integrated prototype system.
Please direct all media queries to Outreach@darpa.mil