Skip to comments.Four DARPA Projects That Could Be Bigger Than The Internet
Posted on 07/14/2014 11:30:04 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
Forty years ago, a group of researchers with military money set out to test the wacky idea of making computers talk to one another in a new way, using digital information packets that could be traded among multiple machines rather than telephonic, point-to-point circuit relays. The project, called ARPANET, went on to fundamentally change life on Earth under its more common name, the Internet.
Today, the agency that bankrolled the Internet is called the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which boasts a rising budget of nearly $3 billion split across 250 programs. They all have national security implications but, like the Internet, much of what DARPA funds can be commercialized, spread and potentially change civilian life in big ways that its originators didnt conceive.
Whats DARPA working on lately that that could be Internet big? Last week at the Atlantic Council, DARPA director Arati Prabhakar declined to name names. Like a good mutual fund manager, she said that her job was to manage risk through diversity in her portfolio. But the technologies that she highlighted in her recent testimony (PDF) to the Senate Appropriations Committee look like a list of insider favorites. Many have received much less public attention than DARPAs flashier robot initiatives.
Here are four of DARPAs potential next big things:
1. Atomic GPS
The Global Positioning System, or GPS, which DARPA had an important but limited role in developing, is a great tool but maintaining it as a satellite system is increasingly costly. A modern GPS satellite can run into the range of $223 million, which is one reason why the Air Force recently scaled back its procurement.
DARPA doesnt have an explicit program to replace GPS, but the DARPA-funded chip-scale combinatorial atomic navigation, or C-SCAN, and Quantum Assisted Sensing, or QuASAR, initiatives explore a field of research with big relevance here: the use of atomic physics for much better sensing. If you can measure or understand how the Earths magnetic field acceleration and position is effecting individual atoms (reduced in temperature), you can navigate without a satellite. In fact, you can achieve geo-location awareness that could be 1,000 times more accurate than any system currently in existence, say researchers
The British military is investing millions of pounds in a similar technology. Researchers associated with the project forecast that they will have a prototype ready within five years.
The upshot for quantum navigation for any military is obvious. It arms them with better and more reliable situational awareness for soldiers and equipment and better flying for missiles. Perhaps, more importantly, a drone with a quantum compass wouldnt require satellite navigation, which would make it much easier to fly and less hackable.
The big benefit for everybody else? Future devices that understand where they are in relation to one another and their physical world wont need to rely on an expensive satellite infrastructure to work. That means having more capable and cheaper devices with geo-location capability, with the potential to improve everything from real-time, location-based searches to self-driving cars and those anticipated pizza delivery drones.
The most important civilian use for quantum GPS could be privacy. Your phone wont have to get signals from space anymore to tell you where you are. It would know with atomic certainty. That could make your phone less hackable and, perhaps, allow you to keep more information out of the hands of your carrier and the NSA.
2.Terehertz Frequency Electronics and Meta-materials
The area of the electromagnetic spectrum between microwave, which we use for cell phones, and infrared, is the Terehertz range. Today, its a ghost town, but if scientists can figure out how to harness it, we could open up a vast frontier of devices of that dont compete against others for spectrum access. That would be a strategic advantage in a time when more military devices use the same electromagnetic spectrum space.
Research into THz electronics has applications in the construction of so-called meta-materials, which would lend themselves to use in cloaking for jets and equipment and even, perhaps, invisibility.
On the civilian side, because THz radiation, unlike X-ray radiation, is non-invasive, metamaterial smart clothes made with small THz sensors would allow for far faster and more precise detection of chemical changes in the body, which could indicate changes in health states. Theres the future doctor in your pocket.
3.A Virus Shield for the Internet of Things
CISCO systems has forecast 50 billion interconnected devices will inhabit the world by the year 2020, or everything from appliances to streets, pipes and utilities through supervisory command and control systems. All of that physical and digital interconnection is now known as the Internet of Things.
The High Assurance Cyber Military Systems program, or HACMS, which DARPA announced in 2012, is trying to patch the security vulnerabilities that could pervade the Internet of Things. The agency wants the to make sure that military vehicles, medical equipment and, yes, even drones cant be hacked into from the outside. In the future, some of the software tools that emerge from the HACMS program could be what keeps the civilian Internet of Things operating safely. This breakthrough wont be as conspicuous as the Internet itself. But you will know its influence by what does not happen because of it namely, a deadly industrial accident resulting from a catastrophic cyber-security breach. (See: Stuxnet.)
Without better security, many experts believe the Internet of things will never reach its full potential. In a recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project about the future of physical and digital interconnection, Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, who was instrumental in the success of ARPANET, said that in order for the Internet of things to really revolutionize the way we live it must be secure.
Barriers to the Internet of Things include failure to achieve sufficient standardization and security, he said. HACMS could provide the seeds for future security protocols, allowing the Internet of things to get off the ground.
4. Rapid Threat Assessment
The Rapid Threat Assessment, or RTA, program wants to speed up by orders of magnitude how quickly researchers can figure out how diseases or agents work to kill humans. Instead of months or years, DARPA wants to enable researchers to within 30 days of exposure to a human cell, map the complete molecular mechanism through which a threat agent alters cellular processes, Prabhakar said in her testimony. This would give researchers the framework with which to develop medical countermeasures and mitigate threats.
How is that useful right now? In the short term, this is another research area notable primarily for what doesnt happen after it hits, namely pandemics. It took years and a lot of money to figure out that H5N1 bird flu became much more contagious with the presence of an amino acid in a specific position.. Thats what enabled it to live in mammalian lungs and, thus, potentially be spread by humans via coughing and sneezing. Knowing this secret earlier would have prevented a great deal of death.
In the decades ahead, the biggest contribution of the program may be fundamental changes in future drug discovery. If successful, RTA could shift the cost-benefit trade space of using chemical or biological weapons against U.S. forces and could also apply to drug development to combat emerging diseases, Prabhakar said.
Before any of these four reach Internet-level success, DARPA faces a big challenge despite its continued popularity, in that they remain a government agency at a time when change moves faster than the U.S. government understands.
We move at a pace measured in decades in an environment that changes every year, Prabhaka said, at the Atlantic Council. In terms of the emerging technology shes most concerned about, its the unknown unknowns, the U.S. militarys ability to handle this vast changing landscape.
The agency that helped to bring about the Internet, Siri and GPS will always enjoy a certain cachet, warranted or not. But the world moves faster than even DARPA can keep up. Perhaps the most important thing that DARPA can create in the years ahead is manageable expectations.
Al Gore says, "BS!".
DARPA is an under appreciated gem involved in funding some superb research work at universities. It would be great to see their budget increase in a big way over the next few years. We desperately need good research into the basic physics of some really exciting materials.
I thought government couldn’t do anything well ?
Amazing how some so-called conservatives are willing to spend OPM, especially when they're hoping to get part of the action.
A border fence that keeps illegal invaders away...
From item two “On the civilian side, because THz radiation, unlike X-ray radiation, is non-invasive,...” Nonsense. THz radiation penetrates the derma and is known to cause damage to DNA. It is one reason that people raised holy hem when THz scanners were introduced at the airport.
Generally this blog bit is the pretty picture version of very dangerous things
It still doesn't.
If politics invaded DARPA, the way they have invaded every other federal agency, and micromanaged research oblivious to the "scientific method," (e.g. Global Warming) we would still be communicating using flags.
You are right. Let’s spend some on securing Nouri Al Maliki. It’s amazing how many so-called conservatives sub-ordinate everything to the belly.
Obama has indulged in crony capitalism to the ruin of our American system and it cannot be tolerated if we are as a country to emerge from this mess as a capitalist country. Yet, if we do not accomplish these goals through research we are liable to be looking at the wrong side of history written in Chinese characters and we will not like what we cannot read. We have to be honest with ourselves and concede that we have an Internet partly because the government "built that" and we have a defense budget which pumps hundreds of billions of dollars every year into procurement and much into pure research.
Evidently, the question comes down to, whose research will we have, Barack Obama's or that which we need to give America the strongest military power on earth?
We cannot afford to stay out of the space race and it's going to cost billions of dollars to reenter. The whole idea of facing off against Chinese missiles with vulnerable aircraft carriers is rapidly becoming obsolete. The next war will be won, or better, the next war will be avoided, because we have spent the money and kept a decisive and recognizable edge in the technology that matters.
On the domestic side, we have got to break away from this Ponzi scheme in which we try to sustain a top heavy welfare state with programs like Social Security by flooding the country with unskilled workers. Goods and services are increasingly going to be delivered to us by robots and drones and unskilled, illiterate, politically naïve, immigrants will be a burden and not a salvation. Hence, we need a way of replacing human labor with technology. That means that technology will have to be researched and funded. Put another way, human labor is increasingly and inevitably going to be replaced by technology, how do we cope with the social consequences and remain a representative democracy committed to individual liberty?
Some of that funding will have to come from the government whether it be for domestic or for military needs. The question is how do we control it? This is a question not dissimilar from that which confronted the founding fathers when they sought to write a constitution which would permit a government which was effective and powerful in the areas where it had legitimate competency but was checked, controlled and even walled off from areas which were not legitimate, which belonged to the states or to the people, and which might lead to tyranny if the government were not controlled or the problem were not managed.
How do we keep the likes of Barack Obama from getting his hands on this money and misdirecting it while at the same time providing for the fundamental needs of a modern nation in a modern economy?
It will not do to throw money at these problems, nor will it do to stick our heads in the sand and deny all government involvement. We must solve the riddle just as the founding fathers and the framers solved the riddle with a solution that lasted until about a generation or two ago.
This particular branch of government, DARPA, has figured out how to set goals and then incentivize the private sector to achieve them. With guidance from the private sector DARPA figures out what needs to be done. Then they allocate funding and dole it out to private companies. Most importantly, unlike most military procurement, they tell companies WHAT they want, but NOT how to achieve it. Money is given not to favored congressional districts but to the best researchers with the best proposals.
Number 4 could show ‘Global Warming/Climate change’ is all BS in about
I will gladly take the title of “so-called conservative” to defend DARPA. They are a net benefit.
But this block of money 2 years ago caught my eye and could be the best 30 million spent in R & D if it truly yields the results they are looking for, not the pie in the sky of this DARPA push.
In total, the quest for a low cost pump @ your home or business ( After all we do have a Natural Gas Infrastructure, at home literally in many parts of the country) filling a normal shaped fuel tank with decent range is a bigger game changer than we know IMHO.
Look at the chart below for a who's who of what is being researched...
Space exploration also grew directly out of defense spending — including the F1 engines used on the Saturn V.
And a little known division of Lockheed known as Skunkworks has provided some incredible technology, paid in part with govt. funding.
Its a shame that DARPA does not concentrate on the two most strategic technologies for the USA and the world today.
1.)4th generation portable nuclear power plants including all the lftr variants.
2.) Semipermeable membranes for desalination plants —membranes that allow passage of fresh water but leave behind salt at room temperature and pressure. membranes that are /cheap to build/cheap to maintain/versatile for all salt water types.
The optimization of these two technologies would collapse the cost of water and energy around the world and enable desert farming the world over. Therefor they would double the size of the habitable planet.
It can’t. Which is why some of these projects get fed billions of dollars over decades instead of millions over years.
Yep. I’m glad we have a working orbital space station and a permanent presence on the moon. All within projected budgets.
Agree. they do great work.