Goliath grouper, black sea bass, and snapping shrimp, along with bioluminescent plankton and other microorganisms, are set to be the unlikely heroes of DARPA's Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) program. Five teams of researchers are developing new types of sensor systems that detect and record the behaviors of these marine organisms and interpret them to identify, characterize, and report on the presence of manned and unmanned underwater vehicles operating in strategic waters.
Current AI systems excel at tasks defined by rigid rules – such as mastering the board games Go and chess with proficiency surpassing world-class human players. However, AI systems aren't very good at adapting to constantly changing conditions commonly faced by troops in the real world – from reacting to an adversary's surprise actions, to fluctuating weather, to operating in unfamiliar terrain. For AI systems to effectively partner with humans across a spectrum of military applications, intelligent machines need to graduate from closed-world problem solving within confined boundaries to open-world challenges characterized by fluid and novel situations.
The testing, evaluation and training of future military systems will increasingly take place in virtual environments due to rising costs and system complexity as well as the limited availability of military ranges. Virtual simulators are already used to augment real-world training for modern fighter aircraft pilots, and they hold significant promise for addressing the rigorous demands of testing and training AI-enabled technologies. Current simulated environments, however, rely on conventional computing that is incapable of generating the computational throughput and speed to accurately replicate real-world interactions, model the scale of physical test ranges or meet the technical requirements of more complex systems.
Blast injuries, burns, and other wounds experienced by warfighters often catastrophically damage their bones, skin, and nerves, resulting in months to years of recovery for the most severe injuries and often returning imperfect results. This long and limited healing process means prolonged pain and hardship for the patient, and a drop in readiness for the military. However, DARPA believes that recent advances in biosensors, actuators, and artificial intelligence could be extended and integrated to dramatically improve tissue regeneration. To achieve this, the new Bioelectronics for Tissue Regeneration (BETR) program asks researchers to develop bioelectronics that closely track the progress of the wound and then stimulate healing processes in real time to optimize tissue repair and regeneration.
Today, machine learning (ML) is coming into its own, ready to serve mankind in a diverse array of applications – from highly efficient manufacturing, medicine and massive information analysis to self-driving transportation, and beyond. However, if misapplied, misused or subverted, ML holds the potential for great harm – this is the double-edged sword of machine learning.
A key ingredient in effective teams – whether athletic, business, or military – is trust, which is based in part on mutual understanding of team members' competence to fulfill assigned roles. When it comes to forming effective teams of humans and autonomous systems, humans need timely and accurate insights about their machine partners' skills, experience, and reliability to trust them in dynamic environments. At present, autonomous systems cannot provide real-time feedback when changing conditions such as weather or lighting cause their competency to fluctuate. The machines' lack of awareness of their own competence and their inability to communicate it to their human partners reduces trust and undermines team effectiveness.
In early April, nine qualified teams will attempt to remotely navigate the dark and dirty corridors of Edgar Experimental Mine in Idaho Springs, Colorado, in preparation for the Circuits Stage of the DARPA Subterranean (SubT) Challenge later this year. The SubT Integration Exercise, known as STIX, offers teams an opportunity to try out their technologies, including robotics, sensors, and communications solutions, in a representative environment. The locations for the Circuits Stage events have not been announced.
A new program out of DARPA's Biological Technologies Office could help the Department of Defense enhance and sustain military readiness both by revolutionizing how troops train, perform, and recover, and by mitigating shortages of highly qualified candidates for extremely specialized roles. The anticipated outputs of the Measuring Biological Aptitude (MBA) program are a set of biomarkers - measurable indicators of biological processes - that correspond to traits of highly effective performance in a given role, along with new tools to measure and report on those biomarkers in real time.
DARPA's Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration (R3D2) is set for launch in late February to space-qualify a new type of membrane reflectarray antenna. The antenna, made of a tissue-thin Kapton membrane, packs tightly for stowage during launch and then will deploy to its full size of 2.25 meters in diameter once it reaches low Earth orbit.
Whether a piece of information is private, proprietary, or sensitive to national security, systems owners and users have little guarantees about where their information resides or of its movements between systems. When a user enters information on a phone, for example, it is difficult to provably track that the data remains on the phone or whether it is uploaded to a server beyond the device. The national defense and security communities are similarly left with few options when it comes to ensuring that sensitive information is appropriately isolated, particularly when it's loaded to an internet-connected system.
Rapid comprehension of world events is critical to informing national security efforts. These noteworthy changes in the natural world or human society can create significant impact on their own, or may form part of a causal chain that produces broader impact. Many events are not simple occurrences but complex phenomena composed of a web of numerous subsidiary elements – from actors to timelines. The growing volume of unstructured, multimedia information available, however, hampers uncovering and understanding these events and their underlying elements.
On December 12, DARPA held the second preliminary event of the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge (SC2) – the world's first collaborative machine-intelligence competition to overcome spectrum scarcity. Fifteen teams represented by members from across the academic, commercial and defense landscapes gathered at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) to pit their intelligent radio designs against each other in a head-to-head competition.
Hypersonic vehicles fly through the atmosphere at incredibly high speeds, creating intense friction with the surrounding air as they travel at Mach 5 or above – five times faster than sound travels. Developing structures that can withstand furnace-like temperatures at such high speeds is a technical challenge, especially for leading edges that bear the brunt of the heat.
Today's critical Department of Defense (DOD) systems and platforms rely on advanced electronics to address national security objectives. To help tackle obstacles facing a half-century of electronics advancement, DARPA launched the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI) – a five-year, upwards of $1.5 billion investment in the future of domestic electronic systems. In November, DARPA expanded ERI with the announcement of ERI Phase II, which seeks to further enmesh the technology needs and capabilities of the defense enterprise with the commercial and manufacturing realities of the electronics industry.
The first test of DARPA's Squad X Experimentation program successfully demonstrated the ability to extend and enhance the situational awareness of small, dismounted units. In a weeklong test series at Twentynine Palms, California, U.S. Marine squads improved their ability to synchronize maneuvers, employing autonomous air and ground vehicles to detect threats from multiple domains – physical, electromagnetic, and cyber – providing critical intelligence as the squad moved through scenarios.
Four years ago, DARPA announced the start of a "journey of discovery" toward understanding and treating networks of the brain. The Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) program proposed to develop responsive, adaptable, closed-loop therapies for neuropsychiatric illness that incorporate recording and analysis of brain activity with near-real-time neural stimulation to correct or mitigate brain dysfunction. The premise of SUBNETS is that brain function and dysfunction - rather than being relegated to distinct anatomical regions of the brain - play out across distributed neural systems.
Flying at 50,000 feet, diving deep in the ocean, or hiking for miles with gear through extreme climates, military service members face conditions that place unique burdens on their individual physiology. The potential exists to develop pharmacological interventions to help service members complete their toughest missions more safely and efficiently, and then recover more quickly and without adverse effects, but those interventions must work on complex physiological systems in the human body.
In a recent test series at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, DARPA's Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) program demonstrated the ability of CODE-equipped Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) to adapt and respond to unexpected threats in an anti-access area denial (A2AD) environment. The UASs efficiently shared information, cooperatively planned and allocated mission objectives, made coordinated tactical decisions, and collaboratively reacted to a dynamic, high-threat environment with minimal communication.
Throughout DARPA's history, artificial intelligence (AI) has been an important area of groundbreaking research and development (R&D). In the 1960s, DARPA researchers completed some of the foundational work in the field, leading to the creation of expert systems, or the first wave of AI technologies. Since then, DARPA has funded developments in the second wave of AI – machine learning – which has significantly impacted defense and commercial capabilities in areas such as speech understanding, self-driving cars, and image recognition.
The joint DARPA/U.S. Army Operational Fires (OpFires) program will soon kick off with three performers awarded contracts to begin work: Aerojet Rocketdyne, Exquadrum, and Sierra Nevada Corporation. OpFires aims to develop and demonstrate a novel ground-launched system enabling hypersonic boost glide weapons to penetrate modern enemy air defenses and rapidly and precisely engage critical time sensitive targets.