The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the group tasked with making badass science-fiction concepts a reality. This is the group that pioneered some of the tech we take for granted, like GPS and the internet. So what are they building now?
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DARPA’s been around since 1958, making hardware and software for the military. Some are worthy of covert spies, while others have broad reaching civilian uses. Once some ideas reach a certain level of development, DARPA like to show them off, like they did at the Pentagon earlier this month.
At DARPA’s “Demo Day,” 60 projects were shown off for a select group of reporters, military leaders, and interested government officals. A team from TechInsider got an invite, and put together the video below.
1. Bionic Limbs
Dr. Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s biological technologies office, says these new hands provide “near natural control, very much like your own arm.” That’s the goal, here–something that is as natural as possible. For superhuman strength, you’ll have to scroll down a bit.
2. Bionic brains
DARPA’s bio-tech office is also building brain implants that could one day restore the memories of troops affected by traumatic brain injuries.
Dr. Sanchez’s team is also working on a brain implant that will help restore damage caused by trauma and (possibly) even age. “If you had a traumatic brain injury and lost the ability to form and recall memories,” Sanchez says, “if you had a medical device that could help you with that it can be transformative.”
Transformers… More than meets the eye. Yes, it would be transformative. There are many soldiers coming back from war who could benefit from this and even more elderly people who’s lives could be completely transformed. A development like this would help alleviate much of the anxiety of aging.
3. Hack-proof computers
What if the United States had a computer system in place that was 100% immune to hacking? How quickly could we integrate that into corprate America to shore up our infrastructure, commerce, and power-grid? And beyond that, think of the value for private individuals.
Even those of us who support open-source development see the potential in this. A hack-proof system may seem like an oxymoron, but DARPA is showing off High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems (HACMS) and inviting hackers to have a go at it. So far, the system has withstood all efforts to crack it.
“I don’t think there is any digital system that is perfectly secure, and I don’t think our platform is perfectly secure, but we’ve certainly demonstrated that we’ve removed significant classes of cyber vulnerabilities,” said Dr. Raymond Richards, HACMS program manager.
4. High-res night vision
If you’ve ever used any traditional night vision, you will understand that the technology is incredibly powerful. While it has changed the way tech-capable armies fight wars, the images produced are far from perfect. DARPA is now working on a system that will take high-res images and share them across a platform of users, which can allow the soldiers on the ground, and others in his or her unit–even observers off-site–to see the same feeds.
This system, though, is going to be expensive. And cost is always a consideration when we talk tech for government agencies. While DARPA is after the high-end tech, they’re also working to get other forms of imaging in at lower prices. They’re hoping for a low-cost thermal imaging program that will detect heat variations so the tech is within reach of every soldier.
5. The Virtual Eye
Get the Eye-of-Sauron image out of your head. In fact, most of the tech isn’t flashy at all. But it can be just as powerful.
The Virtual Eye, which DARPA is building with the private firm Nvidia, allows soldiers or police to “digitally map” a room before they enter. They can literally check the interior of a room for people, weapons, furniture placement, etc. before they ever enter–possibly before they’re even detected by the people in the room.
Talk about scary tech. Hopefully it is hack-proof.
The system involves remote cameras that work in tandem to produce a 3-D image. Trung Tran, DARPA program manager, says “I can do all this without having a soldier endanger himself. Especially when you have adversaries like ISIS who are trying to set booby traps to, in fact, harm the soldiers when they come in just to do the room clearing.”
6. Climb like a Gecko.
DARPA’s “Z-Man” devices allow humans to climb up walls, much like a gecko.
Dr. John A. Main, program manager in the Defense Sciences Office studied geckos and have built climbing devices that work on metal, smooth glass, and fiberglass. “Particularly in an urban scenario where the high ground is on top of buildings, climbing is a very, very important capability,” Main said.
7. Bionic Exoskeletons
This has to be the most awe inspiring piece of hardware. Warrior Web is an exoskeleton that will improve the way we move and how fast we fatigue. It looks something like a wet suit with some wires and braces built onto the outside.
“As you plant your foot, the motor will pull a cable along your hamstring,” Patrick Murphy, a researcher at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, explained. “That will augment what your hip is doing as you walk.”
Warrior Web is in its infancy. So far, those who are testing the devices are exceptionally pleased.
8. Instant language translation
DARPA’s Broad Operational Language Translation (BOLT) system allows real-time language translation. They’re starting up with Arabic, but I’d be willing to bet that Chinese and Russian aren’t far behind.
The system is fast, accurate, and can be used on mobile devices. The image above is just an illustration so observers can witness what’s happening.
Push a button, speak into the device, and the device will then translate it and repeat it in the other language.
An English-speaking soldier would hit a button, say a phrase in English, and then the device speaker repeats the phrase in Arabic. The Arabic speaker can then do the same thing — greatly reducing the time it takes for conversations to get translated.
9. Supersonic missiles
For those of you who would rather have your DARPA tech explosive and violent, DARPA has this gem. The Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) is the next generation of the X-51 “WaveRider,” a drone that reached Mach 5 in 2013.
Darpa says the HAWC “enable[s] transformational changes in responsive, long-range, strike capabilities against time-critical or heavily defended targets.”
Enemies wouldn’t be able to see it coming. And it can reach the target fast. Even if they do see it, they wouldn’t be likely to do anything about it. This is the toy that all of the kids want. And it if we have it first, it would make our military superiority all the more convincing.
10. Unmanned Sub Hunters
The HAWC is great in the air, but pretty much useless in the water. That’s where the “Sea Hunter,”really shines. The Sea Hunter is an anti-submarine continuous trail unmanned vessel (ACTUV). The ACTUV searches for enemy subs and then tracks them. That’s it. No sailors on board, and no remote operation. It does all of this on its own.
Like the Sea Hunter, the Submarine Hold at RisK (SHARK) is another sub hunter, one that can go deeper. “It’s unique in its capabilities that it is fully autonomous,” said Program Manager Shelby Sullivan. “The device drives around and figures out how to search the area without an operator running it.”
Like a real shark, this SHARK has teeth. If following a sub is what’s called for, SHARK will follow. If a more permanent solution is required, the SHARK can take out an enemy sub.
11. Upward Falling Payloads
DARPA has a super sneaky device built that will allow it to seed the oceans with drones that will wait on the bottom of the ocean until they’re called into action. Then, these “upward falling payloads” will pop out and rise to the surface and take flight. “The idea is to predeploy them,” Dr. Jeffrey Krolik said, “to put them there long in advance, and then trigger them when you need them.”
These drones are expected to stay active for five years, at least, without detection. “It would be hard,” Krolik said. “It would be really hard to detect something on the ocean bottom, 6,000 meters. I mean, just look at how difficult it has been to find wreckage of aircraft and so forth.”