The DARPA website receives millions of visits each year. In 2012, we shared information about new efforts and announced milestones reached in our existing programs. A full list of web features may be found at http://go.usa.gov/g7xY. Here is a look back at the most popular—based on webpage views.
With more than 35,000 individual members worldwide and nearly 100 corporate members, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is one of the largest technical society’s dedicated to the global aerospace profession. Recently, DARPA Deputy Director, Steven H. Walker was elevated to the level of Fellow within AIAA.
Radios are used for a wide range of tasks, from the most mundane to the most critical of communications, from garage door openers to military operations. As the use of wireless technology proliferates, radios and communication devices often compete with, interfere with, and disrupt the operations of other devices. DARPA seeks innovative approaches that ensure robust communications in such congested and contested environments.
For the past two weeks, in the woods of central Virginia around Fort Pickett, the Legged Squad Support System (LS3) four-legged robot has been showing off its capabilities during field testing. Working with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL), researchers from DARPA’s LS3 program demonstrated new advances in the robot’s control, stability and maneuverability, including "Leader Follow" decision making, enhanced roll recovery, exact foot placement over rough terrain, the ability to maneuver in an urban environment, and verbal command capability.
Small businesses may submit proposals to nine DARPA technical challenge topics through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program’s Department of Defense FY 2013.1 solicitation, which opened Dec. 17.
Innovation rarely comes from sitting still. DARPA program personnel routinely travel across the country and in some cases around the globe to ensure the latest research and technologic advances inform their efforts. From February 2007 to July 2011, for dozens of DARPA personnel, this travel included locations throughout Afghanistan. It is this direct support to the warfighter that resulted in the Agency’s receipt of the Joint Meritorious Unit Award.
Fiber optic cables provide the core backbone for military and civilian networks, enabling Internet, phone, video and other data to move at super-high speeds with virtually no degradation over long distances. In deployed environments, where a fiber optic backbone doesn’t exist, other communications modes are used resulting in reduced data-rate capacity for the warfighter.
The Department of Defense’s medical system aspires to a standard known as the “Golden Hour” that dictates that troops wounded on the battlefield are moved to advanced-level treatment facilities within the first 60 minutes of being wounded. In advance of transport, initial battlefield medical care administered by first responders is often critical to injured servicemembers’ survival. In the case of internal abdominal injuries and resulting internal hemorrhaging, however, there is currently little that can be done to stanch bleeding before the patients reach necessary treatment facilities; internal wounds cannot be compressed the same way external wounds can, and tourniquets or hemostatic dressings are unsuitable because of the need to visualize the injury. The resulting blood loss often leads to death from what would otherwise be potentially survivable wounds.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) announced that Sanjay Raman, DARPA program manager, has been elevated to IEEE Fellow. His citation notes that the honor is “for leadership in adaptive microwave and millimeter-wave integrated circuits.”
When a person reaches out to place an object in just the right place, their mind makes a series of judgments requiring vision, stability and careful movement. Trying to do the same thing robotically from a hovering unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) requires several technology advances. A DARPA-funded technology demonstration recently finished a successful testing of vision-driven robotic-arm payload emplacement using MLB Company’s (Santa Clara, California) tail-sitter UAV, V-Bat. This UAV is capable of both hover and wing-borne flight, making the delivery and precision emplacement of a payload possible. A special robotic arm was designed with the capability of carrying up to 1 pound.
DARPA wants to ensure that young scientists with novel ideas that may advance U.S. national security receive the funding and mentorship needed to investigate them.
The scenario is one that information security experts dread: widespread dissemination of commercial technology that is secretly wired to function in unintended ways or even spy on its users. From this vantage point, mobile phones, network routers, computer work stations and any other device hooked up to a network can provide a point of entry for an adversary.
As a globally deployed force tasked with defending U.S. interests and delivering humanitarian assistance to international populations, the Department of Defense must be able to provide health care anywhere in the world at any time to protect against natural and man-made health threats. Having trained and equipped medical personnel on hand is not feasible for every mission, however, which is one reason why DoD invests in medical treatments that can be easily administered by one’s self or by fellow servicemembers. Among the 2012 class of academic researchers receiving mentorship and funding through DARPA’s Young Faculty Awards (YFA) program, one individual is studying novel methods for packaging and delivery of orally consumed vaccines. His tool of choice: pollen.
DARPA’s ground-based Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) may soon head to Australia. An agreement reached this week with Australia’s Department of Defense will allow DARPA to take the 180,000 lb. three-mirror Mersenne-Schmidt telescope to Australia to track and catalogues space debris and objects unique to the space above that region of the world that could threaten DoD satellites. In the joint agreement, the U.S. and Australia have decided to work towards the establishment of the Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) on Australian soil.
Realistically and quickly replicating globally interconnected networks to securely test new cyber tools and capabilities is no longer an issue for cyber researchers thanks to the DARPA-developed National Cyber Range (NCR). The NCR, which transitioned in October to the Test Resource Management Center under the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Developmental Test and Evaluation, provides a secure, self-contained facility where complex defense and commercial networks can be rapidly emulated for cost-effective and timely validation of cyber technologies.
NASA estimates more than 500,000 pieces of hazardous space debris orbit the earth, threatening satellites that support peacekeeping and combat missions. These objects include spent rocket stages, defunct satellites and fragments from other spacecraft that are the result of erosion, explosion and collision. A collision between one of these small pieces of debris and a satellite could release more than 20,000 times the energy of a head-on automobile collision at 65 mph. To help address the threat, DARPA created SpaceView, a space debris tracking project that provides amateur astronomers with the means to make a difference. Amateur astronomers will have their first opportunity to sign up in person for the program at the Arizona Science and Astronomy Expo in Tucson, November 10-11, 2012.
It is often the case with new military technologies that warfighters need to adjust to their equipment to access needed capabilities. As missions shift, however, and warfighters are required to work in smaller teams and access more remote locations, it is technology that must adapt if it is to remain useful. Desirable features for many new man-portable systems include small size, light weight, minimal power consumption, low cost, ease of use, multi-functionality and, to the extent possible, network friendliness.
Over the next two years, teams will compete to develop and put to the test hardware and software designed to enable robots to assist humans in emergency response when a disaster strikes. Based on proposals submitted in response to a Broad Agency Announcement, DARPA has selected and will provide funding for seven teams in Track A of the DRC to develop new robotic systems containing both hardware and software and 11 teams in Track B to develop software only.
When the team behind DARPA’s Plan X mapped out where it wanted to go with research in the development of cyber capabilities and platforms, it knew the DARPA approach to problem solving included soliciting input from the leading experts in the field. On October 15 and 16, DARPA outlined its plans for Plan X to a packed house of potential developers and performers and solicited their feedback.
The threat to U.S. warfighters from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) is as varied as the makers of IEDs are resourceful in how they design and conceal the explosives. The Department of Defense has developed and deployed detection and counter-measures for many types of IEDs, but as the threat evolves, new defenses are required to keep warfighters safe. DARPA created the Methods of Explosives Detection at Standoff (MEDS) program to confront a specific class of IEDs: those deeply embedded in substances such as mud, meat or animal carcasses—i.e., opaque substances with high water content that cannot be safely and effectively probed with current technology.
Currently global military aviation relies on a key enabler – aerial refueling. Fighters, bombers, reconnaissance and transport aircraft use “flying gas stations” to go the extra mile. Increasingly, UAVs are conducting combat and ISR operations, but UAVs aren’t designed to be refueled in flight. In 2007, DARPA teamed up with NASA to show that high-performance aircraft can easily perform automated refueling from conventional tankers, yet many unmanned aircraft can’t match the speed, altitude and performance of the current tanker fleet. The 2007 demonstration also required a pilot on board to set conditions and monitor safety during autonomous refueling operations.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is calling on innovators with expertise in designing and engineering drivetrain and mobility systems to collaboratively design elements of a new amphibious infantry vehicle, the Fast, Adaptable, Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG). Registration is now open for the FANG Mobility/Drivetrain Challenge, the first of three planned FANG Challenges, which is set to kick off in January 2013. The winning team will be awarded a $1,000,000 cash prize and will have its design built in the iFAB Foundry.
What happens when six teams of diverse, creative innovators are chosen to live and work together to try creative and ambitious approaches to hard technical challenges facing the Department of Defense? DARPA’s Innovation House Study, an experiment in collaboration and research that kicked off its 8-week sprint last week at George Mason University’s Arlington, Va., campus, is about to find out.
DARPA researchers have created electronic systems and components using ultrathin sheets of silicon and magnesium encapsulated in silk. The thickness and crystallinity of the silk determines how long the electronics take to dissolve: days, hours, or even minutes. Silicon, and magnesium are naturally occurring at low levels in the human body, and since the amount of material used in these devices is below physiological levels, these electronics are biocompatible and eco-friendly.
Military missions of all types need extremely accurate navigation techniques to keep people and equipment on target. That is why the Military relies on GPS or, when GPS is unavailable, precise sensors for navigation. These sensors, such as gyroscopes that measure orientation, are bulky and expensive to fabricate. For example, a single gyroscope designed as an inertial sensor accurate enough for a precision missile can take up to 1 month to be hand assembled and cost up to $1 million. DARPA has made progress in developing less expensive fabrication methods for inertial sensors and is making them orders of magnitude smaller and less expensive.
For warfighters operating in the field, the ability to detect threats from standoff distances can be life-saving. When advanced radar and drone coverage is not available, warfighters typically rely on their own vision to scan their surroundings. Scanning over a wide area, though, is challenging because of the amount of territory that must be reviewed, the limited field of view of the human eye, and the effects of fatigue. Current technologies like binoculars, cameras, and portable radars can help to improve visibility and increase the threat detection rate. Unfortunately, current miss rates of 47 percent or greater using these technologies leave warfighters unprepared and vulnerable.
Exquisite buildings like the Eiffel Tower were made possible because of advances in structural engineering design methods. Truss structures, like the Eiffel Tower, are highly efficient; they can carry the same loads as solid structures, but at approximately one tenth of the weight. This weight and strength advantage is also what enabled the dramatic increase in building heights between 1885 and 1930, when buildings went from an average of ten stories to more than 100 stories, as epitomized by the Empire State Building. With its novel structural engineering, construction of the Eiffel Tower ushered in the age of the skyscraper.
Today, DARPA’s Legged Squad Support System (LS3) program demonstrated two robotic “pack mule” prototypes for the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos, and DARPA Director, Arati Prabhakar. The first platform underwent its initial outdoor test earlier this year and has matured through continual testing and improvements to the point that two functioning platforms have started to run through the paces similar to what they could one day experience carrying gear for a squad of Marines or Soldiers. The goal of the LS3 program is to demonstrate that a legged robot can unburden dismounted squad members by carrying their gear, autonomously following them through rugged terrain, and interpreting verbal and visual commands.
DARPA’s Cheetah robot—already the fastest legged robot in history—just broke its own land speed record of 18 miles per hour (mph). In the process, Cheetah also surpassed another very fast mover: Usain Bolt. According to the International Association of Athletics Federations, Bolt set the world speed record for a human in 2009 when he reached a peak speed of 27.78 mph for a 20-meter split during the 100-meter sprint. Cheetah was recently clocked at 28.3 mph for a 20-meter split. The Cheetah had a slight advantage over Bolt as it ran on a treadmill, the equivalent of a 28.3 mph tail wind, but most of the power Cheetah used was to swing and lift its legs fast enough, not to propel itself forward.
If asked how today’s toughest medical problems are being solved, most people would probably envision highly skilled physicians and scientists working countless hours with sophisticated lab equipment, not people sitting in their homes playing computer games. Yet DARPA feels the gamers of the world have something to contribute. By pooling the time of hundreds or even thousands of computer users, DARPA hopes to accelerate new research into better treatments for sepsis—an overwhelming infection of the bloodstream that affects thousands of servicemembers each year and often leads to death
In space, there are no brakes. Active satellites and spacecraft achieve controlled movement with thrusters. Retired satellites, on the other hand, no longer controlled from Earth, tumble in their orbits through space while traveling at high speed. A spacecraft seeking to rendezvous with such a satellite must perform a delicate dance to safely approach and synchronize movements. With the help of teams of individuals from around the world, DARPA is beginning to determine the steps required. Their work could inform the design of autonomous control mechanisms for all manner of complex future space operations.
Today’s Defense missions rely on a massive amount of sensor data collected by intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms. Not only has the volume of sensor data increased exponentially, there has also been a dramatic increase in the complexity of analysis required for applications such as target identification and tracking. The digital processors used for ISR data analysis are limited by power requirements, potentially limiting the speed and type of data analysis that can be done. A new, ultra-low power processing method may enable faster, mission critical analysis of ISR data.
A Navy ship at sea is surrounded by water, with nothing but its carrier group in sight, and searches the skies for activity overhead. Isolated radars on each ship in the group scan independently of each other with limited effectiveness. But consider if all of the ships’ radars could be coherently linked to function as one. Such a capability would improve the range and resolution of each radar system, making it possible to identify and characterize objects further away and with greater fidelity.
DARPA researchers have created the world’s first solid state receiver to demonstrate gain at 0.85 terahertz (THz). This is the latest breakthrough in the DARPA THz Electronics program in its quest for transistor-based electronics that will enable electronic capabilities at THz frequencies. This represents progress toward the second major technical milestone on the way to 1.03 THz integrated circuits. Previous milestones included demonstrations at 0.67 THz. Operating at these high frequencies enables a host of DoD electronics capabilities such as advanced communication and sensor systems.
Innovation requires latitude to experiment and freedom to explore without fear of failure. Strategic innovation requires experimentation with a purpose. Every year since 2006, DARPA has awarded grants to promising academic scientists, engineers and mathematicians to foster strategic innovation in a defense context and, in the process, enhance basic research at colleges and universities throughout the United States. Under the auspices of the Young Faculty Awards (YFA) program, DARPA hopes to develop the next generation of researchers in key defense-related disciplines and encourage them to focus a significant portion of their careers on defense issues.
Fire in enclosed military environments such as ship holds, aircraft cockpits and ground vehicles is a major cause of material destruction and jeopardizes the lives of warfighters. For example, a shipboard fire on the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in May 2008 burned for 12 hours and caused an estimated $70 million in damage. For nearly 50 years, despite the severity of the threat from fire, no new methods for extinguishing or manipulating fire were developed. In 2008, DARPA launched the Instant Fire Suppression (IFS) program to develop a fundamental understanding of fire with the aim of transforming approaches to firefighting.
There’s a lot to be said for the road that is taken—it’s safe, it’s well lit, and you probably know where it leads. Rarely does an opportunity present itself to leave the road entirely and venture off in search of new vistas. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeks trailblazers to explore the unknown in the areas of visual and geospatial data analysis. Researchers will participate in a short-fuse, crucible-style environment to invent new approaches to the identification of people, places, things and activities from still or moving defense and open-source imagery.
DARPA’s research and development in stealth technology during the 1970s and 1980s led to the world’s most advanced radar-evading aircraft, providing strategic national security advantage to the United States. Today, that strategic advantage is threatened as other nations’ abilities in stealth and counter-stealth improve. Restoring that battle space advantage requires advanced speed, reach and range. Hypersonic technologies have the potential to provide the dominance once afforded by stealth to support a range of varied future national security missions.
This is an image of a gigapixel camera currently being developed by DARPA’s Advanced Wide FOV Architectures for Image Reconstruction and Exploitation (AWARE) program. As part of the program, DARPA successfully tested cameras with 1.4 and 0.96 gigapixel resolution at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, DC. The gigapixel cameras combine 100-150 small cameras with a spherical objective lens. Local aberration correction and focus in the small cameras enable extremely high resolution shots with smaller system volume and less distortion than traditional wide field lens systems. The DARPA effort hopes to produce resolution up to 10 and 50 gigapixels—much higher resolution than the human eye can see. Analogous to a parallel-processor supercomputer, the AWARE camera design uses parallel multi-scale micro cameras to form a wide field panoramic image.
A robot that drives into an industrial disaster area and shuts off a valve leaking toxic steam might save lives. A robot that applies supervised autonomy to dexterously disarm a roadside bomb would keep humans out of harm’s way. A robot that carries hundreds of pounds of equipment over rocky or wooded terrain would increase the range warfighters can travel and the speed at which they move. But a robot that runs out of power after ten to twenty minutes of operation is limited in its utility. In fact, use of robots in defense missions is currently constrained in part by power supply issues. DARPA has created the M3 Actuation program, with the goal of achieving a 2,000 percent increase in the efficiency of power transmission and application in robots, to improve performance potential.
DARPA’s UAVForge, a crowdsourcing competition to design, build and manufacture an advanced small unmanned air vehicle (UAV), set out to determine if a loosely-connected community of UAV enthusiasts could develop a militarily relevant back-pack portable UAV with specific capabilities. By using a crowdsourcing design approach, the effort sought to inspire innovation and creative thought by lowering barriers to entry and increasing the number and diversity of contributors.
Recently, DARPA staff finished a grueling 2-day, 110 Mile Bike Ride that started near DARPA headquarters in Arlington, Va. and ended in Gettysburg, Pa. The team took part in World T.E.A.M. Sports’ annual Face of America ride, which honors wounded warriors. DARPA staff rode as part of Team Strength & Honor which raised more than $39,000. The event attracted more than 500 riders, including more than 60 wounded warriors. Funds raised cover the costs for wounded warriors to participate in the ride and other World T.E.A.M Sports events.
The continued miniaturization and the increased density of components in today’s electronics have pushed heat generation and power dissipation to unprecedented levels. Current thermal management solutions, usually involving remote cooling, are unable to limit the temperature rise of today’s complex electronic components. Such remote cooling solutions, where heat must be conducted away from components before rejection to the air, add considerable weight and volume to electronic systems. The result is complex military systems that continue to grow in size and weight due to the inefficiencies of existing thermal management hardware.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is the signature wound of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Conservative estimates put the number of U.S. warfighters who have experienced TBI at more than 200,000. Battlefield medical personnel today rely on visual signs and the personal accounts of patients to alert them to the possibility of TBI. The DARPA Blast Gauge provides a quantitative means for measuring blast related exposure, thus providing a mechanism for medical personnel to better identify those at risk for TBI. The gauge collects quantitative data to provide medics with a screening tool and data for uncovering the mechanisms of TBI.
DARPA launched the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program in 2006 to advance the state of upper-limb prosthetic technology with the goals of improving quality of life for service-disabled veterans and ultimately giving them the option of returning to duty. Since then, Revolutionizing Prosthetics teams have developed two anthropomorphic advanced modular prototype prosthetic arm systems, including sockets, which offer increased range of motion, dexterity and control options. Through DARPA-funded work and partnerships with external researchers, the arm systems and supporting technology continue to advance.
Sepsis is an overwhelming blood infection, which when coupled with shock (such as that which may be experienced following a combat injury) has a mortality rate near 50 percent. Current methods to identify and treat sepsis may take 48 hours or longer – resulting in increased recovery time from combat wounds and hundreds of preventable deaths.
Warfighters who encounter enemy forces on the ground benefit from overhead aircraft support. Some capabilities are lost, however, when cloud-cover obscures the view. Typically, airborne weapon systems that use electro-optic (EO) sensors during support missions can’t “see” through clouds. DARPA’s Video Synthetic Aperture Radar (ViSAR) program seeks to develop and demonstrate an Extremely High Frequency (EHF) targeting sensor which operates through clouds as effectively as today’s infrared (IR) sensors operate in clear weather.
When the Department of Defense (DoD) wants to build a jet engine, it doesn’t put a team of engineers in a hangar with a block of metal and some chisels. Jet engines are made up of individual components that are carefully assembled into a finished product that possesses the desired performance capabilities. In the case of thin-film deposition—a process in which coatings with special properties are bonded to materials and parts to enhance performance—current science addresses the process as though it is attempting to build a jet from a block of metal, focusing on the whole and ignoring the parts. Like a jet engine, the thin-film deposition process could work better if it was addressed at the component level.
Current satellites are not designed to be serviced in space. When a communication satellite in geosynchronous orbit (GEO) fails 36,000 kilometers above the earth, typically, it is moved into a “graveyard” orbit where it remains indefinitely. Many of the satellites which are obsolete or have failed still have usable antennas, solar arrays and other components which are expected to last much longer than the life of the satellite, but currently there is no way to re-use them.
Warfighters missions rely on a virtual net of sensors and communications systems for greater battlefield awareness than at any time in history. At the same time, demands for actionable information have spiked as warfighters at every level—whether at the planning table or on patrol—are called upon to make well-informed decisions. To maximize mission effectiveness and enhance national security, the Department of Defense (DoD) is now challenged to more efficiently fuse, analyze and disseminate the massive volumes of data this network produces.
The use of ground robots in military explosive-ordinance-disposal missions already saves many lives and prevents thousands of other casualties. If the current limitations on mobility and manipulation capabilities of robots can be overcome, robots could potentially assist warfighters across a greater range of missions. DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program seeks to create and demonstrate significant scientific and engineering advances in robot mobility and manipulation capabilities.
The Arctic region is poised for greater regional significance as polar ice retreats in coming decades. Ship traffic likely will increase during summer months, and commercial activity focused on the sea floor is expected to grow. The Arctic is largely isolated, vast and environmentally extreme. Remote sensing may offer affordable advantages over traditional methods of monitoring the region—aircraft, satellites or manned ships and submarines—due to the great distances in the Arctic.
Precision robotic activity in space, where there’s zero gravity, introduces both advantages and disadvantages. To date, large organizations with complex space systems have dominated this domain. For a small company or an individual this task is almost impossible. But bridging the gap to make the impossible a reality has long been a DARPA trait. For DARPA’s Phoenix program, which has as one of its aims the ability to repurpose components from dead satellites, these limits on space-based precision robotic activity represent one particular challenge that must be addressed for the program to meet its goals.
The use of ground robots in military explosive-ordinance-disposal missions already saves many lives and prevents thousands of other casualties. If the current limitations on mobility and manipulation capabilities of robots can be overcome, robots could much more effectively assist warfighters and other Department of Defense personnel across a greater range of missions. DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program seeks to create and demonstrate significant scientific and engineering advances in robot mobility and manipulation capabilities.
By carrying a more accurate rifle scope, U.S. warfighters can increase their standoff distance when engaging enemies. Increased standoff distance can help protect warfighter lives. This is especially true when an infrared scope is needed for nighttime action. Technologies exist for cooled infrared imaging at greater distances, but such imaging systems are limited by size, weight and power (SWaP) to large platforms such as tanks or helicopters.
Providing high-bandwidth communications for troops in remote forward operating locations is not only critical but also challenging because a reliable infrastructure optimized for remote geographic areas does not exist. When you introduce additional needs, such as communication support for data feeds from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) transmitting information to troops on patrol in remote areas, you face a host of new challenges where dropped signals can create a serious threat to a warfighter's situational awareness.
Dropped calls are an annoyance in a major metropolitan area. But when you’re conducting military patrols in a remote forward-operating location, a loss of data signal means no connectivity between you, reachback support, firepower and valuable intelligence. DARPA’s Fixed Wireless at a Distance program seeks to enable pervasive, high-throughput military communications using a mobility backbone infrastructure that provides unlimited scalability for high-speed communication for warfighters.
Today’s dismounted warfighter can be saddled with more than 100 pounds of gear, resulting in physical strain, fatigue and degraded performance. Reducing the load on dismounted warfighters has become a major point of emphasis for defense research and development, because the increasing weight of individual equipment has a negative impact on warfighter readiness. The Army has identified physical overburden as one of its top five science and technology challenges. To help alleviate physical weight on troops, DARPA is developing a highly mobile, semi-autonomous legged robot, the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), to integrate with a squad of Marines or Soldiers.
Computers are constrained by physical limits, as well as the requirement for humans to program how computers interact with their environments. In contrast the human brain autonomously processes information and learns from its environment. If available, neuromorphic electronic machines, computers that function more like a brain, may enable autonomous computational solutions for real-world problems with many complex variables.
Embedded computer systems play a part in every aspect of DoD technology. The software in these systems does everything from managing large physical infrastructures, to running peripherals such as printers and routers, to controlling medical devices such as pacemakers and insulin pumps. Networking these embedded computer systems enables remote retrieval of diagnostic information, permits software updates, and provides access to innovative features, but it also introduces vulnerabilities to the system via remote attack.
Currently being developed by DARPA researchers at Washington-based Innovega iOptiks are contact lenses that enhance normal vision by allowing a wearer to view virtual and augmented reality images without the need for bulky apparatus. Instead of oversized virtual reality helmets, digital images are projected onto tiny full-color displays that are very near the eye. These novel contact lenses allow users to focus simultaneously on objects that are close up and far away. This could improve ability to use tiny portable displays while sill interacting with the surrounding environment.
Computational capability is an enabler for nearly every military system. But computational capability is increasingly limited by power requirements and the constraints on the ability to dissipate heat. One particular military computational need is found in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems where sensors collect more information than can be processed in real time. To continue to increase processing speed, new methods for controlling power constraints are required.
Proteins are essential in almost all biological processes. The three-dimensional shape of the protein, which is essential to its function, is determined by protein folding. Foldit, which was initially funded by DARPA, is a game with an online community of 240,000 players that allows non-experts and experts alike to collaborate and solve protein folding puzzles. Solutions to these puzzles are sent to biochemistry researchers to analyze for advances in protein design prediction.
TIME Magazine highlighted a DARPA-developed fire-suppression technology naming it among the 50 best inventions of 2011. Fire in a combat vehicle, aboard a ship or other confined space such as an airplane cockpit puts warfighters at risk. Today’s fire suppression technologies are many decades old and focus largely on disrupting the chemical reactions involved in combustion by spraying water, foams or other chemicals on the flames. The key to transformative firefighting approaches may lie in the fundamentals of fire itself.
Military satellites are critical sources of communications and data for today’s operations environments. Through DARPA’s Phoenix program, useable antennas or solar arrays from retired satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO – 36,000 kilometers above earth) could be removed and potentially repurposed as components for new satellites to provide vital mission support. However, identifying cooperating satellites from which to harvest an array is a difficult and lengthy task using current ground-based satellite imaging techniques. By introducing precise fiber optic controls to ground-based telescopes, this challenge may be overcome. DARPA’s Galileo program seeks to bridge the precision fiber optic controls and long-baseline astronomical interferometry technical communities to enable imaging of objects in GEO faster than is possible today.
Military missions place tremendous stress on the materials used for defense weapons, vehicles and other applications. As a result, the search for stronger, lighter and more resilient materials is never ending. Some materials have proven to have high pressure phases that could yield performance improvements in a variety of defense applications provided the processes could be scaled to create stable materials in the quantities needed for the defense mission. Applications range from stronger armor, to performance enhancement in propulsion, to greater resiliency in aerospace, ground and naval platforms. DARPA’s Extended Solids program seeks to identify processes that enable stabilization and production of high pressure phase materials, without the limitations of scale introduced by current high-pressure processes, that exhibit properties far superior to those currently available for DoD applications.
Multiple scenarios exist where warfighters may be exposed to high levels of radiation. Countermeasures against possible high doses of radiation are an ongoing high priority for Department of Defense research and development organizations.
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