The DARPA website receives millions of visits each year. In 2013, 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/ZRdB. Here is a look back at the most popular—based on webpage views.
On December 20-21, 2013, 16 teams were the main attraction at the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials, where they demonstrated their prototype robots’ ability to perform a number of critical real-world disaster-response skills. DARPA constructed eight tasks at the Homestead Speedway in Homestead, Fla., to simulate what a robot might have to do to safely enter and effectively work inside a disaster zone, while its operator would remain out of harm’s way.
“Ladies and gentlemen, start your robots!” Those words echoed over Homestead-Miami Speedway as the sun rose over the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials, which commenced yesterday in Homestead, Fla. The two-day competition has drawn teams from around the world with a common goal: speeding development of robots that could aid in response efforts after future natural and man-made disasters. The opening of the event drew thousands of spectators eager to see the robots in action and witness a new day dawning for disaster-response robotics.
Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla., prepared this past week for a competition unlike any it has ever seen: the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials. Instead of dozens of state-of-the-art cars racing and maneuvering at blazing speeds and covering hundreds of miles, the DRC Trials puts slow prototype robots through a series of simple tasks such as opening doors or walking a short distance. The two-day event, which started today, aims to speed development of robots that could perform a number of critical real-world emergency-response tasks after future natural and man-made disasters.
They walk, crawl and roll. They take inspiration from humans and animals, and come in sizes tall and small, skinny and wide. They represent five countries around the world. They are the robots of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials, and they and their human operators have all been practicing very, very hard.
The Atlas robot is an example of one of many innovative prototypes of disaster-response robots scheduled to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials that are taking place December 20-21 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla.
Constantly losing energy is something we deal with in everything we do. If you stop pedaling a bike, it gradually slows; if you let off the gas, your car also slows. As these vehicles move, they also generate heat from friction. Electronics encounter a similar effect as groups of electrons carry information from one point to another. As electrons move, they dissipate heat, reducing the distance a signal can travel. DARPA-sponsored researchers under the Mesodynamic Architectures (Meso) program, however, may have found a potential way around this fundamental problem.
The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials—taking place December 20-21 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla.—aim to speed development of robots that could aid in response efforts after future natural and man-made disasters. The teams competing at the DRC Trials will direct their prototype robots to accomplish eight tasks, each designed to test the robots’ ability to perform a number of critical real-world disaster-response skills. Through the tasks, DARPA seeks to determine the robots’ ability to act semi-autonomously, instead of through tele-operation, by deliberately varying communications speeds between the robots and their operators.
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.
Many military radio frequency (RF) systems, like radar and communication systems, use a class of power amplifiers (PAs) called monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MIMIC). MMIC PAs using gallium nitride (GaN) transistors hold great promise for enhanced RF performance, but operational characteristics are strongly affected by thermal resistance. Much of this resistance comes at the thermal junction where the substrate material of the circuit connects to the GaN transistor. If the junction and substrate have poor thermal properties, temperature will rise and performance will decrease.
Troops operating in forward locations without telecommunication infrastructure often rely on a mobile ad hoc network (MANET) to communicate and share data. The communication devices troops use on foot or in vehicles double as nodes on the mobile network. A constraint with current MANETs is they can only scale to around 50 nodes before network services become ineffective. For the past 20 years, researchers have unsuccessfully used Internet-based concepts in attempts to significantly scale MANETs.
During a recent media briefing, the DARPA Director, Arati Prabhakar, elucidated what the Agency does for our nation, how it does it, how it thinks about its mission in the context of today's realities and the future that its building by creating the next generation of technology to give Defense leaders more options for tomorrow’s missions.
Today, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded a $1 million prize to “Ground Systems”, a 3-person team with members in Ohio, Texas and California, as the winner of the Fast Adaptable Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG) Mobility/Drivetrain Challenge. Team Ground Systems’ final design submission received the highest score when measured against the established requirements for system performance and manufacturability.
The military uses long-wave infrared (LWIR) cameras as thermal imagers to detect humans at night. These cameras are usually mounted on vehicles as they are too large to be carried by a single warfighter and are too expensive for individual deployment. However, DARPA researchers recently demonstrated a new five-micron pixel LWIR camera that could make this class of camera smaller and less expensive.
The U.S. Military relies on the space-based Global Positioning System (GPS) to aid air, land and sea navigation. Like the GPS units in many automobiles today, a simple receiver and some processing power is all that is needed for accurate navigation. But, what if the GPS satellites suddenly became unavailable due to malfunction, enemy action or simple interference, such as driving into a tunnel? Unavailability of GPS would be inconvenient for drivers on the road, but could be disastrous for military missions. DARPA is working to protect against such a scenario, and an emerging solution is much smaller than the navigation instruments in today’s defense systems.
DARPA’s Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting (DASH) Program has tested two complementary prototype systems as part of its Phase 2 development effort. The prototypes demonstrated functional sonar, communications and mobility at deep depths. The successful tests furthered DASH’s goals to apply advances in deep-ocean distributed sonar to help find and track quiet submarines.
Today, at a White House event, the President unveiled a bold new research initiative designed to revolutionize the understanding of the human brain. As part of this initiative, DARPA intends to invest roughly $50 million in 2014 with the goal of understanding the dynamic functions of the brain and demonstrating breakthrough applications based on these insights.
Two teams of DARPA performers have achieved world record power output levels using silicon-based technologies for millimeter-wave power amplifiers. RF power amplifiers are used in communications and sensor systems to boost power levels for reliable transmission of signals over the distance required by the given application. These breakthroughs were achieved under the Efficient Linearized All-Silicon Transmitter ICs (ELASTx) program. Further integration efforts may unlock applications in low-cost satellite communications and millimeter-wave sensing.
DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO) creates advanced platforms, weapons and space systems to help preserve U.S. military superiority through overwhelming technological advantage. However, constantly evolving technologies, shifting warfighter mission requirements and limited budgets mean TTO must always seek new ways to leverage innovation while fulfilling its duties.
Machine learning – the ability of computers to understand data, manage results, and infer insights from uncertain information – is the force behind many recent revolutions in computing. Email spam filters, smartphone personal assistants and self-driving vehicles are all based on research advances in machine learning. Unfortunately, even as the demand for these capabilities is accelerating, every new application requires a Herculean effort. Even a team of specially-trained machine learning experts makes only painfully slow progress due to the lack of tools to build these systems.
After decades of technical research and leadership experience as a university professor, small defense business owner and science and technology advisor to the Department of Defense, Nils R. Sandell Jr. is fulfilling a long held desire—joining DARPA. Sandell will lead DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office (STO) and accelerate innovation in assured access, ISR, communications, navigation, electronic warfare and other areas focused on shaping the environment.
In areas lacking trustworthy communications infrastructure, deployed servicemembers rely on wireless devices to perform double duty: they not only provide access to the network; they are the network. Protocols for these networks require nodes to coordinate among themselves to manage resources, such as spectrum and power, and determine the best configurations to enable sharing of information. A problem with these protocols is that they implicitly trust all information shared about the security and operational state of each node, and the network as a whole. Consequently, inaccurate control or security information can quickly render the network unusable. This shortcoming could put productivity and mission success at risk as use of military wireless systems increases.
The increased density of electronic components and subsystems in military electronic systems exacerbates the thermal management challenges facing engineers. The military platforms that host these systems often cannot physically accommodate the large cooling systems needed for thermal management, meaning that heat can be a limiting factor for performance of electronics and embedded computers.
Effective 21st-century warfare requires the ability to conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike mobile targets anywhere, around the clock. Current technologies, however, have their limitations. Helicopters are relatively limited in their distance and flight time. Fixed-wing manned and unmanned aircraft can fly farther and longer but require either aircraft carriers or large, fixed land bases with runways often longer than a mile. Moreover, establishing these bases or deploying carriers requires substantial financial, diplomatic and security commitments that are incompatible with rapid response.
Dr. Steven H. Walker, Deputy Director for DARPA, has received the 2013 Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson Skunk Works Award from the Engineers’ Council.
Phased radio frequency (RF) arrays use numerous small antennas to steer RF beams without mechanical movement (think radar without a spinning dish). These electronics are invaluable for critical DoD applications such as radar, communications and electronic warfare. Their lack of moving parts reduces maintenance requirements and their advanced electromagnetic capabilities, such as the ability to look in multiple directions at once, are extremely useful in the field. These benefits, though, come with a high price tag. Current phased arrays are extremely expensive and can take many years to engineer and build.
One of the greatest challenges of the past half century for aerodynamics engineers has been how to increase the top speeds of aircraft that take off and land vertically without compromising the aircraft’s lift to power in hover or its efficiency during long-range flight.
Ionizing radiation can be a silent killer. While scientists have made some strides in preventing immediate death from exposure, there are currently few intervention technologies to protect against long-term morbidity and mortality. In light of the diverse, persistent and substantial threat posed by ionizing radiation, the Department of Defense seeks new ways to protect military and civilian personnel against the immediate and longer-term effects of acute exposure.
DARPA held a multi-program performer meeting for researchers to hear presentations on the latest innovations and promising approaches in the area of Big Data and data analytics. Speakers during the day-long event included representatives from the White House, FBI, universities from across the country and leading companies from the private sector who are focused on the potential efficiencies and advantages that can be gained in Big Data.
Biological warfare agents pose more than a hypothetical threat to U.S. military servicemembers. Troops operate in hostile areas where they could come under attack from adversaries wielding bio-agents like anthrax and toxins. The first step in reacting to any such attack is knowing that it occurred. Quickly and accurately identifying the presence of airborne antigens can be difficult given their complexity, the presence of numerous similar microorganisms in the environment, and the fact that even minute quantities of a threat agent can cause infection.
Military radars, military communications networks, and commercial communications networks all require increasing amounts of limited radio frequency spectrum. Balancing national security requirements of radars and military networks with the growing bandwidth demands of commercial wireless data networks calls for innovative approaches to managing spectrum access. DARPA’s Shared Spectrum Access for Radar and Communications (SSPARC) program aims to improve radar and communications capabilities for military and commercial users by creating technical solutions to enable spectrum sharing.
In the world of network cyber security, the weak link is often not the hardware or the software, but the user. Passwords are often easily guessed or possibly written down, leaving entire networks vulnerable to attack. Mobile devices containing sensitive information are often lost or stolen, leaving a password as the single layer of defense.
Many things drive scientists and technologists from across multiple disciplines to join DARPA as program managers and technical office directors. The most common theme, however, is service to country. At DARPA, these visionaries are charged with creating and preventing technological surprise in support of U.S. national security. For Bradford Tousley, a former DARPA program manager who recently returned to DARPA to assume leadership of the Tactical Technology Office (TTO), service to country spans generations.
The sophisticated electronics used by warfighters in everything from radios, remote sensors and even phones can now be made at such a low cost that they are pervasive throughout the battlefield. These electronics have become necessary for operations, but it is almost impossible to track and recover every device. At the end of operations, these electronics are often found scattered across the battlefield and might be captured by the enemy and repurposed or studied to compromise DoD’s strategic technological advantage.
Inserting new capabilities into a satellite is no simple task. Doing so as that satellite hurdles through space 22,000 miles above the Earth is a bit more challenging still. DARPA’s Phoenix program, which hopes to repurpose retired satellites while they remain in orbit, seeks to fundamentally change how space systems could be designed here on earth and then sustained once in space.
The Department of Defense (DoD) maintains one of the largest computer networks in the world. The network follows DoD personnel across the globe collecting, transferring and processing information in forms as diverse as data warehouses, in-the-field mobile devices and mission computers on board F-18’s. This network is also constantly changing in size and shape as new missions are undertaken and new technology is deployed. In military terms, that means the cyber terrain of the DoD network is constantly shifting.
The inherent goodness of miniaturizing electronics has been key to a wide array of technology innovations and an important economic driver for several decades. For example, the seemingly endless shrinking of the transistor has allowed the semiconductor industry to place ever more devices on the same amount of silicon. Each time the size shrunk, transistors became faster and used less power, allowing increasingly capable electronics in smaller packages that cost less. In recent years, power requirements, excessive heat and other problems associated with physical limitations have reduced the advantages of continuing to shrink size. For the foreseeable future, industry will continue to decrease the size of transistors, increase the number of integrated cores and improve all aspects of the existing architectures. While challenging problems must be met and the ability to achieve the potential improvements is far from assured, these changes are likely to produce more evolutionary improvements.
Most people are familiar with the concept of RADAR. Radio frequency (RF) waves travel through the atmosphere, reflect off of a target, and return to the RADAR system to be processed. The amount of time it takes to return correlates to the object’s distance. In recent decades, this technology has been revolutionized by electronically scanned (phased) arrays (ESAs), which transmit the RF waves in a particular direction without mechanical movement. Each emitter varies its phase and amplitude to form a RADAR beam in a particular direction through constructive and destructive interference with other emitters.
For the more than 700 registered competitors, the journey to winning DARPA’s first FANG Challenge begins today. After months of planning and organizing into more than 150 teams, participants from across the United States will begin collaborating on mobility and drivetrain subsystem designs for the Fast Adaptable Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG). At the end of the competition, DARPA plans to award a $1 million prize to the team whose design submission best achieves established requirements for performance, lead time and cost using the META design tools and the VehicleFORGE collaboration environment. The winning team will also have its design constructed as an automotive test rig in the iFAB foundry.
Today, cost and complexity limit the Navy to fewer weapons systems and platforms, so resources are strained to operate over vast maritime areas. Unmanned systems and sensors are commonly envisioned to fill coverage gaps and deliver action at a distance. However, for all of the advances in sensing, autonomy, and unmanned platforms in recent years, the usefulness of such technology becomes academic when faced with the question, “How do you get the systems there?” DARPA’s Upward Falling Payloads program seeks to address that challenge.
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