Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

Size, Weight and Power Constraints

Making technologies smaller, lighter and more power-efficient to increase military effectiveness

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Officials from Guinness World Records today recognized DARPA’s Terahertz Electronics program for creating the fastest solid-state amplifier integrated circuit ever measured. The ten-stage common-source amplifier operates at a speed of one terahertz (1012 Hz), or one trillion cycles per second—150 billion cycles faster than the existing world record of 850 gigahertz set in 2012.
Many essential military capabilities—including autonomous navigation, chemical-biological sensing, precision targeting and communications—increasingly rely upon laser-scanning technologies such as LIDAR (think radar that uses light instead of radio waves). These technologies provide amazing high-resolution information at long ranges but have a common Achilles heel: They require mechanical assemblies to sweep the laser back and forth. These large, slow opto-mechanical systems are both temperature- and impact-sensitive and often cost tens of thousands of dollars each—all factors that limit widespread adoption of current technologies for military and commercial use.
Find a way to replace a large, heavy and expensive technology with an equivalent one that’s a lot smaller, lighter and cheaper and you have a shot at turning a boutique technology into a world changer. Think of the room-sized computers of the 1940s that now are outpowered by the run-of-the-mill central processing unit in laptop computers. Or the miniaturized GPS components that contribute geolocation smartness in cell phones. DARPA program manager Joshua Conway has another shrinking act in mind: packing the light-catching powers of bulky lens-filled telescopes onto flat, semiconductor wafers that are saucer-sized or smaller, featherweight and cheap to make.
One of the greatest episodes in the history of clockmaking unfolded over three decades during the 18th century in response to a government challenge to overcome a daunting and often deadly problem: Find a way to reliably determine a ship’s east-west position, or longitude, on the high seas. British clockmaker John Harrison won the prize, equivalent to millions of today’s dollars, for his invention of a chronometer that remained stable enough for navigators to make accurate longitude calculations even during long-distance sea voyages.
A newly-announced DARPA program is betting that unprecedented on-chip integration of workhorse electronic components, such as transistors and capacitors, with less-familiar magnetic components with names like circulators and isolators, will open an expansive pathway to more capable electromagnetic systems. The Magnetic, Miniaturized, and Monolithically Integrated Components (M3IC), program will orchestrate research into miniaturized magnetic components with a goal of catalyzing chip-based innovations in radar and other radio frequency (RF) systems—and satisfying growing military and civilian demands for new ways to maneuver within the increasingly crowded electromagnetic spectrum.