Multinational forces, U.S. government agencies and U.S. troops operating together in forward-deployed locations generally have problems communicating—and not just due to language differences. Technical incompatibility between communications systems can hinder information sharing and timely command and control decisions. DARPA’s Mobile Ad hoc Interoperability Network Gateway (MAINGATE) program is helping overcome this technology barrier. The program is nearing completion and plans to transfer the latest version of the system to Army warfighters still engaged in Afghanistan, but who are now focused more on Force Protection as U.S. forces draw down. The MAINGATE system is providing insights into tactical networking of the future, where systems will need more adaptability and capability. The system is packaged in a way that provides real-world capabilities like no other existing system.
As satellites become more common, they face growing risk of colliding with space debris and even each other. The U.S. Department of Defense has thus made space situational awareness a top priority to maintain communication, Earth observation and other critical capabilities upon which military, civilian and commercial functions rely. Traditional telescope technology, however, has difficulty finding and tracking small objects—such as debris and satellites—across wide tracks of sky, especially at the increasingly crowded geosynchronous orbits roughly 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface.
The capability of orbital telescopes to see wide swaths of the earth at a time has made them indispensable for key national security responsibilities such as weather forecasting, reconnaissance and disaster response. Even as telescope design has advanced, however, one aspect has remained constant since Galileo: using glass for lenses and mirrors, also known as optics. High-resolution imagery traditionally has required large-diameter glass mirrors, which are thick, heavy, difficult to make and expensive. As the need for higher-resolution orbital imagery expands, glass mirrors are fast approaching the point where they will be too large, heavy and costly for even the largest of today’s rockets to carry to orbit.
Four teams that built full robot hardware and software systems using their own funds qualified to join 13 other teams to compete in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials. The event will take place Dec. 20 and 21 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla., where spectators can observe as the robots are tested on the capabilities that would enable them to provide assistance in future natural and man-made disasters.
DARPA’s Crowd Sourced Formal Verification (CSFV) program developed and launched its Verigames web portal. Verigames offers free online games to help with formal verification, which confirms the absence of certain software flaws or bugs. CSFV aims to investigate whether large numbers of non-experts can perform formal verification faster and more cost-effectively than conventional processes.
An unmanned target ship demonstrates the effects of the second successful flight test of a Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) prototype, conducted November 12 off the coast of Southern California. The test reinforced the results of LRASM’s first successful free-flight transition test (FFTT) on August 27, which verified the prototype’s flight characteristics and assessed subsystem and sensor performance. Both tests achieved all of their objectives after the prototypes used their respective onboard sensors to detect, engage and hit the moving 260-foot target ships with inert warheads.
Long coils of optical waveguides—any structure that can guide light, like conventional optical fiber—can be used to create a time delay in the transmission of light. Such photonic delays are useful in military application ranging from small navigation sensors to wideband phased array radar and communication antennas. Although optical fiber has extremely low signal loss, an advantage that enables the backbone of the global Internet, it is limited in certain photonic delay applications. Connecting fiber optics with microchip-scale photonic systems requires sensitive, labor-intensive assembly and a system with a large number of connections suffers from signal loss. DARPA-funded researchers developed new methods to integrate long coils of waveguides with low signal loss onto microchips—potentially enabling a leap ahead in size reduction and performance.
The submillimeter wave, or terahertz, part of the electromagnetic spectrum falls between the frequencies of 0.3 and 3 terahertz, between microwaves and infrared light. Historically, device physics has prevented traditional solid state electronics (microchips) from operating at the terahertz scale. Unlocking this band’s potential may benefit military applications such as high data rate communications, improved radar and unique methods of spectroscopy—imaging techniques that provide better tools for scientific research. However, access to these applications is limited due to physics.
DARPA defines its research portfolio within a framework that puts the Agency’s enduring mission in the context of tomorrow’s environment for national security and technology. An integral part of this strategy includes establishing and sustaining a pipeline of talented scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who are motivated to pursue high risk, high payoff fundamental research in disciplines that are critical to maintaining the technological superiority of the U.S. military.
Red blood cells are the most transfused blood product in battlefield trauma care. Unfortunately, they are sometimes in limited supply in a battlefield environment. DARPA created its Blood Pharming program to potentially relieve this shortage by developing an automated culture and packaging system that would yield a fresh supply of transfusable red blood cells from readily available cell sources. If the program is successful, it will eliminate the existing drawbacks of laboratory grown red blood cells, including cost, production efficiency and scalability, compared to those grown inside the human body. Pharmed blood could also offer additional benefits. These potential benefits include eliminating the risk of infections from donors, on-demand availability, avoiding the detrimental effects of storing donated blood, and circumventing the issue of matching blood types between donor and recipient.
Despite the best efforts of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to protect the health of U.S. servicemembers and veterans, the effects of neuropsychological illness brought on by war, traumatic injuries and other experiences are not always easily treated. While current approaches can often help to alleviate the worst effects of these illnesses, they are imprecise and not universally effective. Demand for new therapies is high as mental disorders are the leading cause of hospital bed days and the second leading cause of medical encounters for active duty servicemembers.1 Among veterans, ten percent of those receiving treatment from the Veterans’ Health Administration are provided mental health care or substance abuse counseling.
Microelectromechanical systems, known as MEMS, are ubiquitous in modern military systems such as gyroscopes for navigation, tiny microphones for lightweight radios, and medical biosensors for assessing the wounded. Such applications benefit from the portability, low power, and low cost of MEMS devices. Although the use of MEMS sensors is now commonplace, they still operate many orders of magnitude below their theoretical performance limits. This is due to two obstacles: thermal fluctuations and random quantum fluctuations, a barrier known as the standard quantum limit.
What if computers had a “check engine” light that could indicate new, novel security problems? What if computers could go one step further and heal security problems before they happen?
Recipients of the DARPA Young Faculty Award (YFA) visited the United States Military Academy at West Point during its first Branch Week, September 10-15, 2013. The event brought “several hundred tons of military equipment, vehicles and weapons for the academy’s spin on a college career fair,” according to a West Point news article.
Radios are used for a wide range of tasks, from the most mundane to the most critical of communications, from garage door openers to first responders to military operations. Wireless devices often inadvertently interfere with and disrupt radio communications, and in battlefield environments adversaries may intentionally jam friendly communications. To stimulate the development of radio techniques that can overcome these impediments, DARPA launched its Spectrum Challenge—a competitive demonstration of robust radio technologies that seek to communicate reliably in congested and contested electromagnetic environments without direct coordination or spectrum preplanning.
Bonnie Dorr (left), program manager in DARPA’s Information Innovation Office (I2O), shakes hands with Henry Kautz, past president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), upon her recent induction as an AAAI Fellow. Each year, AAAI bestows the lifetime honor of Fellow on only a handful of researchers for their exceptional leadership, research and service contributions to the field of artificial intelligence. AAAI honored Dorr for “significant contributions to natural language understanding and representation, and development of the widely recognized methods for interlingual machine translation.”
Commercial, civilian and military satellites provide crucial real-time information essential to providing strategic national security advantages to the United States. The current generation of satellite launch vehicles, however, is expensive to operate, often costing hundreds of millions of dollars per flight. Moreover, U.S. launch vehicles fly only a few times each year and normally require scheduling years in advance, making it extremely difficult to deploy satellites without lengthy pre-planning. Quick, affordable and routine access to space is increasingly critical for U.S. Defense Department operations.
Adversaries’ sophisticated air defense systems can make it difficult for current air- and surface-launched anti-ship missiles to hit their targets at long range. To engage specific enemy warships from beyond the reach of counter-fire systems, warfighters may require launching multiple missiles or employing overhead targeting assets such as radar-equipped planes or Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites—resources that may not always be available. To help address these challenges, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) are collaborating on the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) program, which successfully launched its first prototype on August 27.
Military operations depend upon the unimpeded flow of accurate and relevant information to support timely decisions related to battle planning and execution. To address these needs, numerous intelligence systems and technologies have been developed over the past 20 years, but each of these typically provides only a partial picture of the battlefield, and integrating the information has proven to be burdensome and inefficient.
Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), with funding from DARPA’s Quantum-Assisted Sensing and Readout (QuASAR) program, have built a pair of ytterbium atomic clocks that measure time with a precision that is approximately ten times better than the world’s previous best clocks, also developed under QuASAR. How good are they? The record-setting clocks are stable to within less than two parts per quintillion (1 followed by 18 zeros). They measure time so precisely that their readout would be equivalent to specifying the Earth’s diameter to less than the width of a single atom or the age of the known universe to less than one second.
A group of early-career scientists at research universities have received grants totaling more than $12 million for basic research to address some of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) most challenging technological hurdles. From 226 applicants, 25 tenure-track faculty members were selected to receive up to $1 million each over the course of three years. The technology areas they will investigate align with DARPA's future program directions and were chosen with the ultimate goal of going beyond current research and providing new paths forward to realize tomorrow’s national security capabilities.
Today’s naval forces rely primarily on highly capable multifunctional manned platforms, such as ships and submarines. Even the most advanced vessel, however, can only be in one place at a time, making the ability to respond increasingly dependent on being ready at the right place at the right time. With the number of U.S. Navy vessels continuing to shrink due to planned force reductions and fiscal constraints, naval assets are increasingly stretched thin trying to cover vast regions of interest around the globe. To maintain advantage over adversaries, U.S. naval forces need a way to project key capabilities in multiple locations at once, without the time and expense of building new vessels to deliver those capabilities.
Of the many risks dismounted Soldiers face in the field, one of the most common is injury from carrying their gear—often topping 100 pounds—for extended periods over rough terrain. Heavy loads increase the likelihood of musculoskeletal injury and also exacerbate fatigue, which contributes to both acute and chronic injury and impedes Soldiers’ physical and cognitive abilities to perform mission-oriented tasks. To help address these challenges, DARPA seeks performers for the last phase of its Warrior Web program.
Squads of Soldiers or Marines on patrol in remote forward locations often don’t have the luxury of quickly sharing current intelligence information and imagery on their mobile devices, because they can’t access a central server. Troops frequently have to wait until they’re back at camp to download the latest updates. In the meantime, mission opportunities may erode because the information needed at the tactical edge isn’t immediately available.
How do you take the temperature of a cell? The familiar thermometer from a doctor’s office is slightly too big considering the average human skin cell is only 30 millionths of a meter wide. But the capability is significant; developing the right technology to gauge and control the internal temperatures of cells and other nanospaces might open the door to a number of defense and medical applications: better thermal management of electronics, monitoring the structural integrity of high-performance materials, cell-specific treatment of disease and new tools for medical research.
The intensity of light that propagates through glass optical fiber is fundamentally limited by the glass itself. A novel fiber design using a hollow, air-filled core removes this limitation and dramatically improves performance by forcing light to travel through channels of air, instead of the glass around it. DARPA’s unique spider-web-like, hollow-core fiber, design is the first to demonstrate single-spatial-mode, low-loss and polarization control—key properties needed for advanced military applications such as high-precision fiber optic gyroscopes for inertial navigation.
On Monday, July 8, 2013, the seven teams that progressed from DARPA’s Virtual Robotics Challenge (VRC) arrived at the headquarters of Boston Dynamics in Waltham, Mass. to meet and learn about their new teammate, the ATLAS robot. Like coaches starting with a novice player, the teams now have until late December 2013 to teach ATLAS the moves it will need to succeed in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials where each robot will have to perform a series of tasks similar to what might be required in a disaster response scenario.
The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) was created with a clear vision: spur development of advanced robots that can assist humans in mitigating and recovering from future natural and man-made disasters. Disasters evoke powerful, physical images of destruction, yet the first event of the DRC was a software competition carried out in a virtual environment that looked like an obstacle course set in a suburban area. That setting was the first proving ground for testing software that might control successful disaster response robots, and it was the world’s first view into the DARPA Robotics Challenge Simulator, an open-source platform that could revolutionize robotics development.
Military vehicles don’t run without fuel—and warfighters don’t run without water. As little as a six to eight percent water deficit can be debilitating. As a result, military logistics plans must take into account the approximately three gallons of daily drinking water that each warfighter requires. However, the logistics burden of supplying water to deployed troops is comparable to that of fuel and the economic cost is high. Even more important is the cost in lives; former Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Conway said in 2010, “We take 10 to 15 percent of casualties among Marines involved in the delivery of fuel and water.”
As wireless devices proliferate and the radio spectrum becomes ever more congested, all users have a common interest in radio technologies that can accommodate the largest number of users but still enable priority traffic to get through. The DARPA Spectrum Challenge—a competitive demonstration of robust wireless technologies—recently announced the selection of 15 of 18 semifinalists for $150,000 in prize money. DARPA plans to fill three remaining wildcard slots in August 2013 before the September 2013 semifinals at DARPA’s offices in Arlington, Va.
DARPA's Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) program aims to enable ground forces and combat aircrews to jointly select and employ precision-guided weapons from a diverse set of airborne platforms. The program seeks to leverage advances in computing and communications technologies to fundamentally increase CAS effectiveness, as well as improve the speed and survivability of ground forces engaged with enemy forces.
DARPA-funded researchers recently demonstrated the world’s smallest vacuum pumps. This breakthrough technology may create new national security applications for electronics and sensors that require a vacuum: highly sensitive gas analyzers that can detect chemical or biological attack, extremely accurate laser-cooled chip-scale atomic clocks and microscale vacuum tubes.
Since 2000, more than 2,000 servicemembers have suffered amputated limbs. DARPA’s breakthrough research with advanced prosthetic limbs controlled by brain interfaces is well documented, but such research is currently limited to quadriplegics; practical applications of brain interfaces for amputees are still in the future. In contrast, nerve and muscle interfaces allow amputees to control advanced prosthetics in the near term. Recent demonstrations may give Wounded Warriors hope that they can soon take advantage of these breakthroughs.
DARPA’s Adaptable Sensor System (ADAPT) program aims to transform how unattended sensors are developed for the military by using an original design manufacturer (ODM) process similar to that of the commercial smartphone industry. The goal is to develop low-cost, rapidly updatable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors in less than a year, a marked improvement to the current three-to-eight year development process.
A Soldier carries a 61-pound load while walking in a prototype DARPA Warrior Web system during an independent evaluation by the U.S. Army. Warrior Web seeks to create a soft, lightweight under-suit that would help reduce injuries and fatigue common for Soldiers, who often carry 100-pound loads for extended periods over rough terrain. DARPA envisions Warrior Web augmenting the work of Soldiers’ own muscles to significantly boost endurance, carrying capacity and overall warfighter effectiveness–all while using no more than 100W of power.
Success on the battlefield requires warfighters to know as much as possible about themselves, their surrounding environment and the potential threats around them. Dismounted infantry squads in particular risk surprise and loss of tactical advantage over opponents when information is lacking. While squads use many different technologies to gather and share information, the current piecemeal approach doesn’t provide the integrated, real-time situational awareness needed for individual warfighters and squad leaders to anticipate situations and effectively maneuver to positions of advantage. Providing this capability would provide dismounted squads with overwhelming tactical superiority over potential adversaries similar to what warfighters enjoy at the aircraft, ship and vehicle levels.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate the strategic significance of tactical actions by junior and noncommissioned officers who interact with local populations. This kind of interaction benefits from extensive cultural training, but opportunities for such training are limited by the compression of the Department of Defense’s force-generation cycles. Virtual training simulations provide a partial solution by offering warfighters on-demand, computer-based training, but creating such tools currently requires substantial investments of time, money and skilled personnel.
For more than fifty years, researchers have been studying exactly how aspirin affects the human body. Despite thousands of publications on the topic, our understanding is still incomplete.
In science, many of the most interesting events occur at a scale far smaller than the unaided human eye can see. Medical researchers might realize a range of breakthroughs if they could look deep inside living biological cells, but existing methods for imaging either lack the desired sensitivity and resolution or require conditions that lead to cell death, such as cryogenic temperatures. Recently, however, a team of Harvard University-led researchers working on DARPA’s Quantum-Assisted Sensing and Readout (QuASAR) program demonstrated imaging of magnetic structures inside of living cells. Using equipment operated at room temperature and pressure, the team was able to display detail down to 400 nanometers, which is roughly the size of two measles viruses.
Please direct all media queries to Outreach@DARPA.mil