DARPA Brings Game
DARPA Brings Game-Changing Technology and Its Creators to
DoD News, Defense Media Activity.
Washington D.C. — (DoD
News) — May 11, 2016 — Scientists and engineers from the
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency took over the Pentagon center
courtyard today, defying gray skies and a steady drizzle to demonstrate to
future users some of their most cutting-edge work for national security.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Director Dr. Arati
Prabhakar speaks with reporters during DARPA Demo Day 2016 at the Pentagon, May
11, 2016, to give the Defense Department community an up-close look at the
agency's portfolio of innovative technologies and military systems, May 11,
Two of the Defense Department’s top technology leaders also were there to speak
with reporters about DARPA’s mission -- Stephen P. Welby, assistant secretary of
defense for research and engineering, and DARPA Director Dr. Arati Prabhakar.
In individual tents situated neatly around the courtyard,
DARPA program managers and staff showed off and explained more than 60 of the
agency’s programs involving air systems, biology, counterterrorism, cyber,
ground warfare, maritime systems, microsystems, space and the electromagnetic
“DARPA really is the disruption engine behind our technology
enterprise in the department,” Welby said in an interview with DoD News,
“working on cutting-edge technologies that are going to fundamentally shape our
future, and working to bring that future into today.”
Welby, who also serves as the department’s chief technology
officer, said Pentagon military staff members were “standing out in the rain
talking to some of these brilliant folks about things that are going to change
the way the department operates in the future.”
DARPA is an engine of innovation, he said, where scientists
and engineers think about biology and new ways to keep soldiers healthy in
combat environments, new ways to bring aircraft to maritime environments, and
new space missions that could allow warfighters to do things in space they’ve
never been able to do before.
“They're harnessing new materials, advances in computer
science, the cutting edge of synthetic biology,” Welby said, “but they're doing
it not with an eye toward … advancing their academic careers. They're thinking
about how they can couple that to systems that will matter to the warfighter.
That's what's really great about DARPA.”
Welby, himself a DARPA alumnus, said DARPA's secret weapon is
making each research effort a three- to four-year program.
Stephen P. Welby, assistant secretary for defense for research and engineering,
speaks with reporters during DARPA Demo Day 2016 at the Pentagon, to give the
Defense Department community an up-close look at the agency's portfolio of
innovative technologies and military systems, May 11, 2016.
“The projects have a distinct start and a distinct finish, and DARPA recruits
most of its staff as temporary-term appointments. These folks come in with three
or four years to change the world, to make a difference, and under that intense
pressure, under that clock, that's the secret weapon to moving the future in,”
Brilliant people come to DARPA with a mission, he added, and
with the determination to make things happen. That's the clock that matters most
-- in that three or four years, how far they’ve pushed the state of the art and
how fast they can create the art of the possible.”
‘Those Crazy Technologies’
In her remarks, Prabhakar said DARPA was at the Pentagon
today because DARPA's mission is about breakthrough technologies for national
“Today is the day that we bring some of those crazy
technologies into the Pentagon [to] get them in front of our customers and our
partners -- people across all the military services and across DoD and the
intelligence community,” she said.
DARPA cares about driving technology forward, the director
added, “but it doesn't really count until we get it across the finish line, and
that's what today is really all about.”
Prabhakar described some of the agency’s projects, including
one that is in the process of making a connection with the services.
The Communications Under Extreme Radio Frequency Spectrum
Conditions, or CommEx, program deals with the problem of communication systems
for DoD aircraft. Link 16 is a military tactical data-exchange network used by
the United States, NATO nations and several others.
“Those are now vulnerable to adversary jamming and new kinds
of jamming threats,” Prabhakar said, “and CommEx is an upgrade that's now being
inserted into Link 16 that will start giving those systems protection in a world
in which the technology the adversary has keeps changing and becomes much harder
for us to counter. We now have some answers to that.”
Bringing radically new technologies to
DARPA Demo Day is an
opportunity for program managers to talk to people about the kinds of new
applications that might come from them, she said.
Behind every demo is an enormous amount of technical work
that DARPA does by working with a broad, diverse exciting technical community
around the country and sometimes in other parts of the world, the director said. “Sometimes … we’re driving a brand new frontier, and then
those technologies end up getting commercialized. Sometimes that's a very
important part of getting the impact we need out of our technologies,” she
One example is a program called
Prabhakar said -- an example of a very advanced technology that's starting to
move into commercialization through university start-up companies.
Recent DARPA research has shown the ability to accelerate
production of millions of doses of vaccine using novel plant-based methods. But
clinical trials for vaccines and drugs can’t be initiated without preclinical
evidence of their safety in people. Human safety and drug performance is not
always effectively predicted through animal testing and the Defense Department
must rapidly develop and field safe and effective medical countermeasures
against biological threats to warfighters. To create a pathway for fielding safe
and effective countermeasures, DARPA has launched the Microphysiological Systems
program. MPS will develop a platform that uses engineered human tissue to mimic
human physiological systems. The interactions that candidate drugs and vaccines
have with these mimics will accurately predict the safety and effectiveness that
the countermeasures would have if administered to people. The resulting platform
should increase the quality and potentially the number of novel therapies that
move through the pipeline and into clinical care.
MPS “is building cell cultures that emulate human organs, and
they give us a platform that would allow us to test suspicious threat agents
when we don't want to test them on people,” she added. “It gives us a safe way
to get much more realistic testing.”
Another example will be the DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge, to be held in Las Vegas in August just before the DEFCON 24 Hacking Conference
“We have created ‘a league of their own’ for machines to
conduct cyber defense operations. It's going to be the first time ever that
teams are going to compete by turning their machines on and letting them fight
it out in a capture-the-flag game just for machines to play,” Prabhakar said.
Doing that, she said, will help DARPA develop advanced cyber
defense capabilities that will have enormous commercial applications -- another
way that DARPA will have access to the technologies.
“Participants in that competition include a lot of
universities but also a couple of small companies,” she added. “One has posted
on its website that it plans to make commercially available all the things it's
developing through the Cyber Grand Challenge.”
Advancing the technology and getting the commercial push is
one part of what DARPA does when the commercial sector is aggressively driving
technology, which is then available around the world, the director said.
DoD Secret Sauce
Another thing DARPA does in many programs is to grab
leading-edge commercial technology and add DoD “secret sauce” to it. “By
combining those we're able to build systems that no one else on the planet can
build,” she said.
An example is called
Diverse Accessible Heterogeneous
Integration, or DAHI, Prabhakar said, pulling a small wafer out of her pocket.
“This is leading-edge commercial silicon technology that is
the best you can get around the world,” she said. “But very deeply integrated
with this are small dies of very specialized gallium nitride or indium phosphide
When those specialized components are combined with that
leading-edge technology, DARPA is able to build very compact systems. But even
more importantly, the director said, “we're going to be able to build systems
that have technical performance way out ahead of what's commercially possible.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)
Related Biographies :
Stephen P. Welby
Dr. Arati Prabhakar