DARPA’s pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies and capabilities for national security take place in about 250 possibility-redefining programs across dozens of fields, from quantum metamaterials and machine learning to neurotechnology and unmanned system autonomy. Throughout the year, the Agency produces updates about newly launched efforts, promising results, and major program accomplishments. We post them all on the DARPA news page, which in 2017 received 35 million page views—a 30 percent increase over last year.
The end of the year is the perfect opportunity for the many communities that follow DARPA to revisit favorite articles and discover new ones—so we’ve compiled a countdown of the year’s ten most popular updates to DARPA’s news page, based on visits:
10. Removing the Viral Threat: Two Months to Stop Pandemic X from Taking Hold (February 6, 2017)
DARPA is launching the Pandemic Prevention Platform (P3) program, aimed at developing foundational work into an entire system capable of halting the spread of any viral disease outbreak before it can escalate to pandemic status. Such a capability would offer a stark contrast to the state of the art for developing and deploying traditional vaccines—a process that does not deliver treatments to patients until months, years, or even decades after a viral threat emerges.
9. Sharing Battlefield Information at Multiple Classification Levels via Mobile Handheld Devices (January 10, 2017)
DARPA today announced its Secure Handhelds on Assured Resilient networks at the tactical Edge (SHARE) program. SHARE aims to create a system where information at multiple levels of security classification could be processed on a single handheld device using a resilient secure network that links devices without needing to route traffic through secure data centers. This capability would be able to operate over existing commercial and military networks while maintaining the security of sensitive information and safety of operations.
8. Toward Machines that Improve with Experience (March 16, 2017)
DARPA’s new Lifelong Learning Machines (L2M) program aims to develop next-generation machine learning technologies that can learn from new situations and apply that learning to become better and more reliable, while remaining constrained within a predetermined set of limits that the system cannot override. Such a capability for automatic and ongoing learning could, for example, help driverless vehicles become safer as they apply knowledge gained from previous experiences—including the accidents, blind spots, and vulnerabilities they encounter on roadways—to circumstances they weren’t specifically programmed or trained for.
7. Smart Quadcopters Find their Way without Human Help or GPS (June 28, 2017)
Phase 1 of DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program concluded recently following a series of obstacle-course flight tests in central Florida. Over four days, three teams of DARPA-supported researchers huddled under shade tents in the sweltering Florida sun, fine-tuning their sensor-laden quadcopter unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during the intervals between increasingly difficult runs.
DARPA’s FLA program is advancing technology to enable small unmanned quadcopters to fly autonomously through cluttered buildings and obstacle-strewn environments at fast speeds (up to 20 meters per second, or 45 mph) using onboard cameras and sensors as “eyes” and smart algorithms to self-navigate.
6. Radioactive Threat Detection System Completes Emergency Vehicle Test Deployment in Nation’s Capital (March 1, 2017)
DARPA’s SIGMA program—whose goal is to prevent attacks involving radiological “dirty bombs” and other nuclear threats—concluded its biggest and longest test deployment of vehicle-mounted radiation detectors in Washington, D.C., in February. For approximately seven months starting in July 2016, the fleet of D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services ambulances was outfitted with DARPA-developed nuclear and radiological detectors, providing the first city-scale, dynamic, real-time map of background radiation levels throughout the Capital as well as identifying any unusual spikes that could indicate a threat.
5. RadioBio: What role does electromagnetic signaling have in biological systems? (February 7, 2017)
DARPA’s RadioBio program, announced today, seeks to establish if purposeful electromagnetic wave signaling between biological cells exists—and if evidence supports that it does, to determine what information is being transferred. The validity of existing and new electromagnetic biosignaling claims requires an understanding of how the structure and function of microscopic, natural antennas are capable of generating and receiving information in a noisy spectral environment.
4. SideArm Prototype Catches Full-Size Unmanned Aerial System Flying at Full Speed (February 6, 2017)
Few scenes capture the U.S. Navy’s prowess as effectively as the rapid-fire takeoff and recovery of combat jets from the deck of an aircraft carrier. The ability to carry air power anywhere in the world, and both launch those aircraft to flight speed and bring them to a stop over extremely short distances, has been essential to carriers’ decades-long dominance of naval warfare. To help provide similar capabilities—minus the 90,000-ton carriers—to U.S. military units around the world, DARPA’s SideArm research effort seeks to create a self-contained, portable apparatus able to horizontally launch and retrieve unmanned aerial systems (UASs) of up to 900 pounds.
3. TNT Researchers Set Out to Advance Pace and Effectiveness of Cognitive Skills Training (April 26, 2017)
In March 2016, DARPA announced the Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT) program, an effort to enlist the body’s peripheral nervous system to achieve something that has long been considered the brain’s domain alone: facilitation of learning. Work on TNT has now begun. The crux of the wide-ranging program is to identify optimal and safe neurostimulation methods for activating “synaptic plasticity”—a natural process in the brain, pivotal to learning, that involves the strengthening or weakening of the junctions between two neurons—then build those methods into enhanced training regimens that accelerate the acquisition of cognitive skills.
2. Service Academies Swarm Challenge Live-Fly Competition Begins (April 23, 2017)
To help make effective swarm tactics a reality, DARPA created the Service Academies Swarm Challenge, a collaboration between the Agency and the three U.S. military Service academies—the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the U.S. Air Force Academy. An experiment at its heart, the research effort is designed to encourage students to develop innovative offensive and defensive tactics for swarms of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Today the effort started its three-day Live-Fly Competition at Camp Roberts, a California Army National Guard post north of Paso Robles, Calif., which is hosting more than 40 Cadets and Midshipmen to demonstrate the highly autonomous swarm tactics they have developed since work started in September.
1. DARPA Picks Design for Next-Generation Spaceplane (May 24, 2017)
DARPA has selected The Boeing Company to complete advanced design work for the Agency’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, which aims to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would bolster national security by providing short-notice, low-cost access to space. The program aims to achieve a capability well out of reach today—launches to low Earth orbit in days, as compared to the months or years of preparation currently needed to get a single satellite on orbit.
A full list of the Agency’s online updates is available at http://www.darpa.mil/news.
In addition to its ongoing outreach through the DARPA news page, DARPA also regularly publishes a podcast series, “Voices from DARPA.” “Voices from DARPA” is based on the three-pronged truism that technology is a driver of our times; that since its founding in 1958 in the midst of the Cold War, DARPA has been a driver of technology; and that it’s the Agency’s program managers who are the heart and soul of DARPA and who therefore can be the best point of entry for truly understanding what the future will bring. In each episode, a program manager from one of the Agency’s six technical offices—Biological Technologies, Defense Sciences, Information Innovation, Microsystems Technology, Strategic Technology, and Tactical Technology—discusses in informal and personal terms why they are at DARPA and the breakthrough technologies for national security they are striving to create. “Voices from DARPA” can be accessed via BluBrry, YouTube, and iTunes.
Curious what other DARPA activities captured the public’s interest in 2017 and even earlier? The links below reveal the top videos and social media posts from this year, as well as content from prior years:
Want to connect with DARPA in 2018? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube for news updates, funding opportunities, and images and videos of the world’s most cutting-edge technologies.
Image Caption: The DARPA website received 35 million page views in 2017. 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 high-resolution image.
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