Tag Archives: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

How to Navigate the Rubble: DARPA

Rescue robot

Imagine a natural disaster scenario, such as an earthquake, that inflicts widespread damage to buildings and structures, critical utilities and infrastructure, and threatens human safety. Having the ability to navigate the rubble and enter highly unstable areas could prove invaluable to saving lives or detecting additional hazards among the wreckage.

Dr. Ronald Polcawich, a DARPA program manager in the Microsystems Technology Office (MTO):”There are a number of environments that are inaccessible for larger robotic platforms. Smaller robotics systems could provide significant aide, but shrinking down these platforms requires significant advancement of the underlying technology.”

Technological advances in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), additive manufacturing, piezoelectric actuators, and low-power sensors have allowed researchers to expand into the realm of micro-to-milli robotics. However, due to the technical obstacles experienced as the technology shrinks, these platforms lack the power, navigation, and control to accomplish complex tasks proficiently

To help overcome the challenges of creating extremely [Size, Weight and Power] SWaP-constrained microrobotics, DARPA is launching a new program called SHort-Range Independent Microrobotic Platforms (SHRIMP). The goal of SHRIMP is to develop and demonstrate multi-functional micro-to-milli robotic platforms for use in natural and critical disaster scenarios. To achieve this mission, SHRIMP will explore fundamental research in actuator materials and mechanisms as well as power storage components, both of which are necessary to create the strength, dexterity, and independence of functional microrobotics platforms.

“The strength-to-weight ratio of an actuator influences both the load-bearing capability and endurance of a micro-robotic platform, while the maximum work density characterizes the capability of an actuator mechanism to perform high intensity tasks or operate over a desired duration,” said Polcawich. “

Excerpts from Developing Microrobotics for Disaster Recovery and High-Risk Environments: SHRIMP program seeks to advance the state-of-the art in micro-to-milli robotics platforms and underlying technology, OUTREACH@DARPA.MIL, July 17, 2018

Needed: The Prefect Crystal Ball for Gray War

The activity, hostile action that falls short of–but often precedes–violence, is sometimes referred to as gray zone warfare, the ‘zone’ being a sort of liminal state in between peace and war. The actors that work in it are difficult to identify and their aims hard to predict, by design…

Dubbed COMPASS, the new program will “leverage advanced artificial intelligence technologies, game theory, and modeling and estimation to both identify stimuli that yield the most information about an adversary’s intentions, and provide decision makers high-fidelity intelligence on how to respond–-with positive and negative tradeoffs for each course of action,” according to a DARPA notice posted on March 14, 2018.

Teaching software to understand and interpret human intention — a task sometimes called “plan recognition” …has advanced as quickly as the spread of computers and the internet, because all three are intimately linked.

From Amazon to Google to Facebook, the world’s top tech companies are pouring money into probabilistic modeling of user behavior, as part of a constant race to keep from losing users to sites that can better predict what they want. A user’s every click, “like,” and even period of inactivity adds to the companies’ almost unimaginably large sets, and new  machine learning and statistical techniques make it easier than ever to use the information to predict what a given user will do next on a given site.

But inferring a user’s next Amazon purchase (based on data that user has volunteered about previous choices, likes, etc.) is altogether different from predicting how an adversary intends to engage in political or unconventional warfare. So the COMPASS program seeks to use video, text, and other pieces of intelligence that are a lot harder to get than shopping-cart data…

Unlike shopping, the analytical tricks that apply to one gray-zone adversary won’t work on another. “History has shown that no two [unconventional warfare] situations or solutions are identical, thus rendering cookie-cutter responses not only meaningless but also often counterproductive,” wrote Gen. Joseph Votel, who leads U.S. Central Command, in his seminal 2016 treatise on gray zone warfare.

Exceprts from The Pentagon Wants AI To Reveal Adversaries’ True Intention, www.govexec.com, Mar. 17, 2018

The Perfect Spies: Animals as Mobile Sensors of US Enemies

From the DARPA website:

The world’s vast oceans and seas offer seemingly endless spaces in which adversaries of the United States can maneuver undetected. The U.S. military deploys networks of manned and unmanned platforms and sensors to monitor adversary activity, but the scale of the task is daunting and hardware alone cannot meet every need in the dynamic marine environment. Sea life, however, offers a potential new advantage. Marine organisms are highly attuned to their surroundings—their survival depends on it—and a new program out of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office aims to tap into [marine animals] natural sensing capabilities to detect and signal when activities of interest occur in strategic waters such as straits and littoral regions.

The Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) program, led by program manager Lori Adornato, will study natural and modified organisms to determine which ones could best support sensor systems that detect the movement of manned and unmanned underwater vehicles. PALS will investigate marine organisms’ responses to the presence of such vehicles, and characterize the resulting signals or behaviors so they can be captured, interpreted, and relayed by a network of hardware devices.

Beyond sheer ubiquity, sensor systems built around living organisms would offer a number of advantages over hardware alone. Sea life adapts and responds to its environment, and it self-replicates and self-sustains. Evolution has given marine organisms the ability to sense stimuli across domains—tactile, electrical, acoustic, magnetic, chemical, and optical. Even extreme low light is not an obstacle to organisms that have evolved to hunt and evade in the dark.

However, evaluating the sensing capabilities of sea life is only one of the challenges for PALS researchers. Performer teams supporting DARPA will also have to develop hardware, software, and algorithms to translate organism behavior into actionable information and then communicate it to end users…. The complete sensing systems must also discriminate between target vehicles and other sources of stimuli, such as debris and other marine organisms, to limit the number of false positives.

Adornato is aiming to demonstrate the approach and its advantages in realistic environments to convey military utility. “Our ideal scenario for PALS is to leverage a wide range of native marine organisms, with no need to train, house, or modify them in any way, which would open up this type of sensing to many locations,” Adornato said.

Excerpt from PALS Turns to Marine Organisms to Help Monitor Strategic Waters: Highly adapted sea life could help U.S. military detect adversary activity over large areas, Feb. 2, 2018

The Subterraneans

subway NYC

From the DARPA website:

Underground settings are becoming increasingly relevant to global security and safety. Rising populations and urbanization are requiring military and civilian first responders to perform their duties below ground in human-made tunnels, underground urban spaces [e.g. mass transit, water infrastructure] and natural cave networks. Recognizing that innovative, enhanced technologies could accelerate development of critical lifesaving capabilities, DARPA today announced its newest challenge: the DARPA Subterranean Challenge.

The DARPA Subterranean or “SubT” Challenge aims to explore new approaches to rapidly map, navigate, and search underground environments. Teams from around the world will be invited to propose novel methods for tackling time-critical scenarios through unknown courses in mapping subsurface networks and unpredictable conditions, which are too hazardous for human first responders.

“One of the main limitations facing warfighters and emergency responders in subterranean environments is a lack of situational awareness; we often don’t know what lies beneath us,” said Timothy Chung, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO). “The DARPA Subterranean Challenge aims to provide previously unimaginable situational awareness capabilities for operations underground.”

“We’ve reached a crucial point where advances in robotics, autonomy, and even biological systems could permit us to explore and exploit underground environments that are too dangerous for humans,” said TTO Director Fred Kennedy.“Instead of avoiding caves and tunnels, we can use surrogates to map and assess their suitability for use. Through the DARPA Subterranean Challenge, we are inviting the scientific and engineering communities—as well as the public—to use their creativity and resourcefulness to come up with new technologies and concepts to make the inaccessible accessible.

Excerpts from DARPA Subterranean Challenge Aims to Revolutionize Underground Capabilities, Dec. 21, 2017

Restitching the Internet

Core rope memory for computers

Is the internet becoming obsolete?
The government agency that invented the network that runs the world seems to think so. So the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched a program aimed at “completely rethinking how to network and compute” … DARPA’s Dispersed Computing program (or DCOMP, as it’s known) adds another moniker to the set of emerging technologies that includes fog computing, edge computing, and distributed computing. DCOMP takes these paradigms one step further, however, and envisions a network that is able to borrow processing and communications resources from its many nodes as and when needed to accomplish whatever task its users might throw at it.

“Today’s network is pretty static,” says Petros Mouchtaris, CEO of Vencore Labs….“The computing capabilities we have in our hands, at what we call the edge of the network, have really changed dramatically since the internet was invented. At same time, the core technology of the internet hasn’t really changed at all.”…Updating that core technology, according to DARPA, will require overhauling the very stuff that knits the internet together: its protocols. …The TCP/IP protocols, in use since the early 1980s, are good for getting information from one place to another, but that’s no longer enough…

DCOMP envisions is “the opportunistic use of network-embedded computing resources,”… Rather than thinking of the devices on the networks as nothing more than nodes that pass information from source to destination, DCOMP sees them also as distributed computing resources that can be dynamically reallocated in real time, depending on the changing needs of the current mission set. Imagine every cell phone, smart thermostat, fitness tracker, and game console in your house contributing their spare cycles to help process the video you’re trying to upload, or educate the machine learning algorithm that runs your AI personal assistant.

To understand how and when to allocate all those devices’ computing and communications power, the network will need to be able to examine itself, to a certain extent. “We’re working on creating a network which can sense very quickly what’s going on in the network, and can react very quickly because it’s programmable,” he continues. Though the work is still in the design phase, Mouchtaris envisions a set of protocols that will change on the fly to better support current needs and conditions in the field….

“That generates a lot of overhead. You want to very quickly find out about what’s changing in the network and adapt quickly, but you don’t want to flood the network with requests for information about what’s going on.”

Excerpts from MARK WALLACE DARPA, The Secretive Agency That Invented The Internet, Is Working To Reinvent It, Fast Magazine, Nov. 7, 2017

See also How to Fight like a Network

Brains without Consciousness: humans in warfare

Two millivolts is enough to show that someone has seen something even before he knows he has seen it himself. The two millivolts in question are those associated with P300, a fleeting electrical signal produced by a human brain which has just recognised an object it has been seeking. Crucially, this signal is detectable by electrodes in contact with a person’s scalp before he is consciously aware of having recognised anything.

That observation is of great interest to the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  DARPA’s Neurotechnology for Intelligence Analysts programme is dedicated to exploiting it in the search for things like rocket launchers and roadside bombs in drone and satellite imagery. To that end it has been paying groups of researchers to look into ways of using P300 to cut human consciousness out of the loop in such searches.

Among the beneficiaries are Robert Smith’s group at Honeywell Aerospace, in Phoenix, Arizona, and Paul Sajda’s at Neuromatters, in New York. Both of the “image triage systems” designed by these groups require the humans in them to wear special skull-enclosing caps. Each cap is fitted with 32 electrodes that record the brain’s electrical responses to whatever stimuli it is subjected to. Wearers have pictures flashed before their eyes at the rate of ten a second. That is too fast for conscious recognition, because the brain’s attention will have moved on to the next image before consciousness can come into play. It is not, though, too fast for the initial stages of recognition, marked by a P300 signal, to occur when suspicious items are present. Images that provoke such a signal are then tagged for review. According to Dr Sajda, this triples the speed with which objects of interest can be found.

Speed is important, of course. But in matters such as this, accuracy matters more. And some people think they can improve that, too—not by reading the brain, but by stimulating it. Many studies have shown that zapping the brain with a weak electric current, a procedure called transcranial neuronal stimulation, enhances what is known as “fluid intelligence”. This is the ability to reason, as opposed merely to recall facts. Another American military-research establishment, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), hopes to exploit this phenomenon for the purpose of target identification….[W]ith a current of just two milliamps, the stimulation is painless and safe, says Vincent Clark, a neuroscientist at the University of New Mexico. In a project paid for in part by IARPA, he and his team have stimulated the brains of more than 1,000 volunteers using a 9V battery connected to electrodes on the scalp. After half an hour of stimulation, volunteers spot in test photographs 13% more snipers, makeshift bombs and the like than do volunteers given a “sham” current of 100 microamps (5% of the experimental current) that mimics the skin-tingling induced by the experimental current.

Excerpts from Know your enemy: How to make soldiers’ brains better at noticing threats, Economist,  July 29, 2017

Imagine! Mosaic Warfare, how to fight like a network

image from wikipedia

DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office (STO) on August 4, 2017 unveiled its updated approach to winning or deterring future conflicts. The foundation of STO’s new strategy rests on the recognition that traditional U.S. asymmetric technology advantage—such as highly advanced satellites, stealth aircraft, or precision munitions—today offer a reduced strategic value because of growing global access to comparable high-tech systems and components, many of which are now commercially available. Additionally, the high cost and sometimes decades-long development timelines for new military systems can’t compete with the fast refresh rate of electronics component technology on the commercial market, which can make new military systems obsolete before they’re delivered.

STO’s updated strategy seeks a new asymmetric advantage—one that imposes complexity on adversaries by harnessing the power of dynamic, coordinated, and highly autonomous composable systems.

“We’ve developed a technology-based vision that would enable highly complex, strategic moves by composing multiple contributing systems to enable what might be thought of as ‘mosaic warfare,’ in which individual components can respond to needs in real time to create desired outcomes,” said Tom Burns, director of STO. “The goal is to fight as a network to create a chain of effects—or, more accurately because these effects are not linear, ‘effects webs’—to deter and defeat adversaries across multiple scales of conflict intensity. This could be anything from conventional force-on-force battles to more nebulous ‘Gray Zone’ conflicts, which don’t reach the threshold of traditional military engagements but can be equally disruptive and subversive.”

U.S. military power has traditionally relied upon monolithic military systems where one type of aircraft, for example, is designed to provide a single end-to-end capability tailored to a very specific warfighting context—and be a significant loss if shot down. In contrast, the composable effects webs concept seeks a mosaic-like flexibility in designing effects for any threat scenario. By using less expensive systems brought together on demand as the conflict unfolds, these effects webs would enable diverse, agile applications—from a kinetic engagement in a remote desert setting, to multiple small strike teams operating in a bustling megacity, or an information operation to counter an adversary spreading false information in a population threatening friendly forces and strategic objectives. Mosiacs can rapidly be tailored to accommodate available resources, adapt to dynamic threats, and be resilient to losses and attrition.

This means that even if an adversary can neutralize a number of pieces of the mosaic, the collective can instantly respond as needed to still achieve the desired, overall effect.”…The mosaic strategy is also anticipated to change the way the military thinks about designing and buying future systems. Instead of spending years or even decades building exquisite, monolithic systems to rigid requirements, future acquisition programs would be able to buy mosaic “tiles” at a rapid, continuous pace. The true power of the new capabilities will come from the composite mosaic effects.

The approach will draw in part on a number of existing DARPA programs that are developing enabling technologies to achieve the challenging mosaic warfare architecture, including: The Complex Adaptive System Composition And Design Environment (CASCADE) program is addressing composition of existing and new systems; the System of Systems Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE) program is focused on integrating the various systems to work together; Distributed Battle Management (DBM) and Resilient Synchronized Planning and Assessment for the Contested Environment (RSPACE) are addressing battle management command and control; and Communications in Contested Environments (C2E) and Dynamic Network Adaptation for Mission Optimization (DyNAMO) are focused on seamless, adaptable communications and networking.

Excerpts from Strategic Technology Office Outlines Vision for “Mosaic Warfare”, DARPA Press Release, Aug. 4, 2017