Four DARPA projects that could change the world

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28959742_sForty 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, pointto-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, according to the defenseone.

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 didn’t conceive.

The next four projects, led by DARPA may change the picture: 


The Global Positioning System, 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.  DARPA-funded chip-scale combinatorial atomic navigation, or C-SCAN, and Quantum Assisted Sensing. If you can measure or understand how the Earth’s 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.


The area of the electromagnetic spectrum between microwave, which we use for cell phones, and infrared, is the Terehertz range. Today, it’s a ghost town, but if scientists can figure out how to harness it, we could open up a vast frontier of devices of that don’t compete against others for spectrum access. Research into THz electronics has applications in the construction of so-called metamaterials, which would lend themselves to use in cloaking for jets and equipment and even, perhaps, invisibility.


 The High Assurance Cyber Military Systems program, or HACMS, is trying to patch the security vulnerabilities that could pervade the Internet of Things. The agency wants to make sure that military vehicles, medical equipment and, yes, even drones can’t 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.

Without better security, many experts believe the Internet of things will never reach its full potential. In a recent survey, Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, said that in order for the Internet of things to really revolutionize the way we live it must be secure.


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.