Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

Ground Systems

Manned and unmanned terrestrial systems, including vehicles, robotics and supporting technologies

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Under a DARPA contract, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) developed the Blast Gauge, a small device worn by warfighters to measure blast exposure and cue medics for initial response. This phase of the project took just 11 months with a total development cost of approximately $1 million. As field tests began, and design refinement and larger production quantities were required, RIT researchers formed BlackBox Biometrics, a small business to commercialize and manufacture the Blast Gauges.
DARPA and the U.S. Army’s Fort Belvoir Research, Development and Engineering Center ran a series of concept studies in the early 1970s to define requirements for an anti-tank weapon referred to as the Terminally Guided Anti-Armor Indirect Fire Weapon System. Under DARPA’s wing, that morphed into the Brilliant Anti-Tank Munition (BAT)), a terminally guided anti-armor munition originally intended to be carried aboard the TriService Standoff Attack Missile. Its design featured dual seekers to minimize spoofing and a novel acoustic sensor that could cue on the sound of running tank engines. A decade after the program began, more than 1,100 pre-production and low-production units had been built.

In addition to supporting advanced materials development since its early years, DARPA has at times been called upon to identify technologies for specific near-term applications. One of these tasks occurred for Operation Desert Storm (1991-1992) when ground forces experienced a critical need for more effective armor. The DARPA solution in this case, particularly for roof protection for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) against artillery, was to ask the Lanxide Corporation to modify its cermet (ceramic/metallic) process and to work with a partner Foster Miller to produce appliqué armor.

From 1984 to 1986, DARPA supported the materials research and engineering that led to these cermet materials. With DARPA funding, 75 LAVs were up-armored with the tough composite materials. In the early 1990s, M-9 Armored Combat Earthermoves (ACE) also employed this lightweight armor. Variations of these cermet materials have been used for cockpit armor by the U.S. Air Force in C-130, C-141, and C-14 aircraft in Bosnia.

The Lanxide material has also been employed as high-power-density heat sinks for the F/A-18 and F-16 radars, turbine tip shrouds, commercial satellite heat sinks, very stiff parts for semiconductor lithography machines, and as vehicle brake components. All of the military and civil uses of Lanxide evolved directly from DARPA’s program. The military uses were under DARPA support, and then transitioned to U.S. Army and Air Force programs.

In June 2015, the finale of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a competition of robot systems and software teams vying to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters, unfolded at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif.
The DARPA Urban Challenge was held on November 3, 2007, at the former George AFB in Victorville, Calif. Building on the success of the 2004 and 2005 Grand Challenges, this event required teams to build an autonomous vehicle capable of driving in traffic, performing complex maneuvers such as merging, passing, parking, and negotiating intersections. As the day wore on, it became apparent to all that this race was going to have finishers. At 1:43 pm, “Boss”, the entry of the Carnegie Mellon Team, Tartan Racing, crossed the finish line first with a run time of just over four hours. Nineteen minutes later, Stanford University’s entry, “Junior,” crossed the finish line. It was a scene that would be repeated four more times as six robotic vehicles eventually crossed the finish line, an astounding feat for the teams and proving to the world that autonomous urban driving could become a reality. This event was groundbreaking as the first time autonomous vehicles have interacted with both manned and unmanned vehicle traffic in an urban environment.