Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

Electromagnetic Spectrum and Bandwidth

Novel concepts and technologies for maximizing use of the electromagnetic spectrum

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Nothing is more iconic of today’s high technology than the semiconductor chips inside our computers, phones, military systems, household appliances, fitness monitors, and even birthday cards and pets. Since its inception in 1992, DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) has helped create and prevent strategic surprise through investments in compact microelectronic components, such as microprocessors, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), and photonic devices. MTO’s pioneering efforts to apply advanced capabilities in areas such as wide-band-gap materials, phased array radars, high-energy lasers, and infrared imaging, have helped the United States establish and maintain technological superiority for more than two decades.
In a vision shared by innovators, entrepreneurs, and planners in both defense and civilian contexts, the skies of the future will be busy with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Unseen but central to the realization of this vision is wireless communication within and between those future fleets of UAVs that is reliable and resistant to both unintentional and ill-willed interference. “If these UAVs can’t communicate, they don’t take off or they don’t operate the way we want them to” said Josh Conway, a program manager in DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office. 
Unveiled in March 2016, DARPA’s Spectrum Collaboration Challenge has reached an early milestone by choosing 30 contenders for the first of the three-phase competition, slated to culminate at the end of 2019 with a live match of finalists who have survived the two preliminary contests. In addition to 22 teams from academia and small and large companies, eight individuals have made it into the competition.
For decades scientists have wondered whether electromagnetic waves might play a role in intra- and inter-cell signaling. Researchers have suggested since the 1960s, for example, that terahertz frequencies emanate from cell membranes, but they’ve lacked the technology and tools to conduct reproducible experiments that could prove whether electromagnetic waves constitute purposeful signals for biological function—or if they’re merely background noise. With recent advances in technology and modeling, experiments may now be possible to test signaling hypotheses.
If human ears could hear the electromagnetic spectrum, the noise levels these days would be overwhelming. The skyrocketing use of wireless devices in military and civilian domains has created a complicated and cacophonous environment, filled with signals of widely varying frequency and amplitude and a menagerie of modulations. For warfighters trying to maintain critical communications links, interpret ambiguous radar returns, or defend against electronic warfare tactics, the ability to sort through that thicket of waveforms is essential—to identify where key signals are coming from, what kind of signals they are, and how best to send and receive information via the least contested spectral bands.