From ocean depths to Earth orbit, from systems of systems and digital domains to the mysteries of the human brain, DARPA supported about 250 paradigm-challenging programs in 2015—a technology portfolio of possible futures that many people apparently found of interest. The DARPA website received just under 20 million page views in 2015, as visitors came to learn about new efforts the Agency was launching and about milestones reached in existing programs. A full list of online updates posted by the Agency is available at http://www.darpa.mil/news. But for those who want to know what most intrigued their fellow curiosity-seekers in 2015, here is a countdown of the year’s ten most popular updates to DARPA’s news page, based on visits:
10. Robots Learn to Perform Tasks by “Watching” YouTube Videos
January 29, 2015—Robots can learn to recognize objects and patterns fairly well, but to interpret and be able to act on visual input is much more difficult. Researchers at the University of Maryland, funded by DARPA’s Mathematics of Sensing, Exploitation and Execution (MSEE) program, developed a system that enabled robots to process visual data from a series of “how to” cooking videos on YouTube. Based on what was shown on a video, robots were able to recognize, grab and manipulate the correct kitchen utensil or object and skillfully perform the demonstrated task without additional human input or programming.
9. Work Begins to Support Self-Healing of Body and Mind
October 5, 2015—DARPA selected seven teams of researchers to begin work on the Agency’s Electrical Prescriptions (ElectRx) program, which has as its goal the development of a closed-loop system to treat diseases by modulating the activity of peripheral nerves. The teams are initially pursuing a diverse array of research and technological breakthroughs in support of the program’s technical goals. Ultimately, the program envisions a complete system that can be tested in human clinical trials aimed at conditions such as chronic pain, inflammatory disease, post-traumatic stress and other illnesses that may not be responsive to traditional treatments.
8. Marine Corps Leadership “Very Pleased” with 1st Successful Demonstration of DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) System
April 6, 2015—Close air support (CAS)—delivery of airborne munitions to support ground forces—is difficult and dangerous because it requires intricate coordination between combat aircrews and dismounted ground forces. DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) program focuses on technologies to enable sharing of real-time situational awareness and weapons-systems data among airborne and ground forces through approaches designed to work with almost any aircraft. PCAS, which enjoyed further successful testing in the months after this April report, envisions more precise, prompt and easy air-ground coordination for CAS and other missions under stressful operational conditions and seeks to minimize the risk of friendly fire and collateral damage by enabling the use of smaller munitions to hit smaller, multiple or moving targets.
7. ALASA Getting Closer to Delivering Big Things in Small Packages to Space
February 5, 2015—Through its Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program, DARPA has been developing new concepts and architectures to get small satellites into orbit more economically on short notice. DARPA leadership discussed several key accomplishments of the program, including successful completion of Phase 1 design and selection of the Boeing Company as prime contractor for Phase 2 of the program, which would include conducting 12 orbital test launches of an integrated prototype system. In November, DARPA provided further updates on this ambitious program.
6. Upgraded Atlas Robot to Go Wireless as the Stakes Are Raised for the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals
January 20, 2015—DARPA announced that a total of $3.5 million in prizes would be awarded to the top three finishers in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), the final event of which was held on June 5-6, 2015, at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif. The new prize structure was created in recognition of both the significant progress that teams had already demonstrated at that time toward development of human-supervised robot technology for disaster response, and the increased number of teams planning to compete in the Finals, including some funded by the European Union and the governments of Japan and South Korea. Aside from the previously announced $2 million grand prize, DARPA said it would award $1 million to the runner-up and $500,000 to the third-place team. Ultimately 23 teams competed, with a South Korean team taking top honors.
5. DARPA Seeks to Create Software Systems That Could Last 100 Years
April 8, 2015—As modern software systems continue inexorably to increase in complexity and capability, users have become accustomed to periodic cycles of updating and upgrading to avoid obsolescence—if at some cost in terms of frustration. In the case of the U.S. military, having access to well-functioning software systems and underlying content is critical to national security, but updates are no less problematic than among civilian users and often demand considerable time and expense. That is why DARPA in April announced it would launch an ambitious four-year research project to investigate the fundamental computational and algorithmic requirements necessary for software systems and data to remain robust and functional in excess of 100 years.
4. DARPA Shares Its Vision for the Future
March 26, 2015— DARPA released Breakthrough Technologies for National Security, a biennial report summarizing the Agency’s historical mission, current and evolving focus areas and recent transitions of DARPA-developed technologies to the military Services and other sectors. The report’s release coincided with testimony by DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar before the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, at a hearing entitled “Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2016 Science and Technology Programs: Laying the Groundwork to Maintain Technological Superiority.”
3. Friendly “Gremlins” Could Enable Cheaper, More Effective, Distributed Air Operations
August 28, 2015—An ability to send large numbers of small unmanned air systems with coordinated, distributed capabilities could provide U.S. forces with improved operational flexibility at much lower cost than is possible with today’s expensive, all-in-one platforms—especially if those unmanned systems could be retrieved for reuse while airborne. So far, however, the technology to project volleys of low-cost, reusable systems over great distances and retrieve them in mid-air has remained out of reach. To help make that technology a reality, DARPA launched its Gremlins program.
2. EXACTO Guided Bullet Demonstrates Repeatable Performance against Moving Targets
April 27, 2015— DARPA’s Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program, which developed a self-steering bullet to increase hit rates for difficult, long-distance shots, completed in February its most successful round of live-fire tests to date. An experienced shooter using the technology demonstration system repeatedly hit moving and evading targets. Even a novice shooter using the guided-bullet system for the first time hit a difficult moving target.
1. DARPA Aims to Accelerate Memory Function for Skill Learning
April 27, 2015—A new DARPA program is investigating the role of neural “replay” in the formation and recall of memory, with the goal of helping individuals better remember specific episodic events and learned skills. The 24-month fundamental research program, Restoring Active Memory Replay, or RAM Replay, is designed to develop novel and rigorous computational methods to help investigators determine not only which brain components matter in memory formation and recall, but also how much they matter.
Curious what other DARPA activities captured the public’s interest in 2015 and even earlier? The links below reveal the top videos and social media posts from this year, as well as content from prior years.
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Image Caption: The DARPA website received nearly 20 million page views in 2015. Throughout the year, we shared information about new efforts the Agency was launching and announced milestones reached in existing programs. Here is a look back at the ten most popular updates to the DARPA News page, based on visits. Click below for a high-resolution image.
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