Pentagon’s Secret Squirrels

How DARPA helps invent!

US DEFENCE Advanced arch Projects Agency or
PA has developed some of the
advanced technology In the
.Now celebrating Its 5oth ersary,the organisation had e some major technological
throughs,Including Inventing ternet,and is stillat the ngedge of research,with
of the most advanced– yet
iest-research going.
RPA was founded in one of
Russia were competing In the race to get into space.In
1957,the Russians unleashedasurprise by launching Sputnik.the first ever satellite.Just half a
metre across,Sputnik
orbitedthe Earth emitting
radio bleeps which could be heard by amateur radio enthusiasts all
over the planet.
every go minutes, a constant
remlnder of Russian
technological superiority.America
had fallen behind because their national science development was Ina mess,because of
squabbling between
the Army,Navy and
responded by founding DARPA as a single organisation to findand develop the most advanced new
technology for defence purposes.
DARPA can move fast because
of its lean organisation,unlike the
rest of the military which has
offices full of pen-pushersslowing things down.The Pentagon building, the US military headquarte
lsthelargestofflce building In the world;more than twenty-three thousandpeople
DARPA works by getting people in industry and universities to develop technologicalideas.A
typicalproject has just one DARPA manager working with a team from five different companies and two
universities.Their budget might bearound t”:zom over four years,enough to buy the very best
technologicaltoys.
The DARPA approach Is to  nd wildIdeas andpursuingthem as far as they will go.The challenges
Hard’.They acceptthat someti their efforts willnot pay off,an is this freedom to failwhich means
they can attempt thing thatnobody else would dare.
In the process,DARPA has
developedmanyHdualuse• technologies which have bee taken up by the civilian world. The Saturn V
rocket used by NASA Is one,putting a man o the moon and restoring the U lead in the space
race.Anothe
Whenthe Bob Taylor walked into
his new office In1965,he found three computers on his desk. each connected to a different network.
Taylor was head of DARPA’s computing section,and he realised that the three networks were
completely different and couldnot communicate with each other. What was needed was something which
wouldioin them together,a sort of inter-networknetwork.
He quicklypersuaded his boss to give him money for the project, and within four years the new
network wasborn. It grewrapidly, and became the Internet.
CHEAPASCHIPS
A MultiProject Wafer Is not a type
of biscuit -Irsa revolutionary way of makingcomputer chips.
Microprocessors,or silicon chips, are at the heart of allmodem electronics such as mobile phones,
MP3players andcomputers.They are also vitalfor guidedmissiles andother military hardware,and
in the197o’s they were getting
more complex andexpensive.A
block of dozens of chips are made
at the same time insheets called
wafers;DARPA pioneeredthe
method of havingseveraldifferent chips made by different companies on the same wafer.This made
them much cheaper,paving the way for allthe low-cost elemonlcs we now take for granted.
INVISIBlE AIRCRAFT
The biggest threat to aircraft is
radar whichcanspot them from hundreds of miles away.DARPA
was set the challenge of making
aircraft vanish from radar screens.
Radar bounces a focused beam
of radio energy off anaircraft and detectingthe return signal.DARPA scientists knew that
certainshapes were better at scatteringradar energy away from the receiver, and they set about
building an aircraft to take advantage of this.
The endresult was the F-117
Nighthawk,the first ‘stealth’
aircraft.Its faceted shape re ects radar beamsaway from the source.It Is also coated with
specialradar­ absorbingmaterial­ basicallypaint containlng smallmetalparticles.lfs ugly and hard to
fly but to radar,lfslnvlslble.
PORTABlETRANSUllOR When you join the Army you can get sent anywhere at short notice
– but how do you cope with the
language? A US Navy
doctor in Kuwait found that he could communlcate better with his Arab patients using sound files of
common
phrases (‘take two of
these tablets every four
hours’} storedonhis
laptop.
TheIdea was taken up by
DARPA which then fundedthe
development of the Phraselator;a pocket-sized device that doesn’t just play stock phrases but also
has built-in voice recognition.You
just speak into the Phraselator and
It can translate the request Into one of severallanguages.
DRONE POWER
Early unmannedaircraft were
really just bigradio-controlled
models or normalaircraft modified for remote control.DARPA
developed the concept of robot
spyplanes with a much longer
endurance In the air.
Because theynever tire on long missions,this type of aircraft is
especially usefulfor keeping a
watch over borders searching for
Insurgents In wide openspaces.
DARPA developedan unmannedaircraft calledthe Gnat,
which ew CIA missions lasting38 hours. The Gnat then evolvedInto the Predator,which was highly
successfulin supporting allied troops In1995and has since proven Its value In Iraqand
Afghanistan.Unmannedaircraft arealso used for sdentlflc research everywhere from the tropics to
Antarctica.•

The US Defence Advanced Projects Agency has developed some of the advanced technology in the world, including the Internet and it’s still at the cutting edge of research, with some of the most advanced – and sometimes wackiest – research going.

After the Second World War, the US and Russia were competing in the race to get into space. In 1957, the Russians unleashed a surprise by launching Sputnik – the first ever satellite. Just half a metre across, Sputnik orbited the Earth emitting radio bleeps which could be heard by amateur radio enthusiasts all over the planet.  To the Americans, this was the shock of the century.  Sputnik sailed over them every 90 minutes, a constant reminder of Russian technological superiority.  America had fallen behind because their national science development was in a mess because of squabbling between the Army, Navy and Air Force.  President Eisenhower responded by founding DARPA as a single organisation to find and develop the most advanced new technology for defence purposes.

PentagonCompared to the Pentagon, the US military headquarters (and the largest office building in the world with more than 23,000 people, DARPA has a staff of around 300.  The DARPA approach is to find wild ideas and pursue them as far as they will go.  They accept that sometimes their efforts will not pay off, and its this freedom to fail which means they can attempt things that nobody else would dare.

So what has DARPA been involved in?

The Saturn V rocket – used by NASA that put a man on the moon and restored the US lead in the space race

The Internet – When Bob Taylor walked into his new office in1965, he found three computers on his desk, each connected to a different network.  Taylor was head of DARPA’s computing section, and he realised that the three networks were  completely different and could not communicate with each other. What was needed was something which would join them together, a sort of inter-network network.  He quickly persuaded his boss to give him money for the project, and within four years the new network was born. It grew rapidly, and became the Internet.

Computer ChipsComputer Chips – A Multi Project Wafer is not a type of biscuit -It’s a revolutionary way of makingcomputer chips.  Microprocessors,or silicon chips, are at the heart of all modern electronics such as mobile phones, MP3 players and computers.  They are also vital for guided missiles and other military hardware, and in the197o’s they were getting more complex and expensive.  A block of dozens of chips are made at the same time in sheets called wafers – DARPA pioneered the method of having several different chips made by different companies on the same wafer.  This made them much cheaper, paving the way for all the low-cost electronics we now take for granted.

F-117 NighthawkInvisible Aircraft – The biggest threat to aircraft is radar which can spot them from hundreds of miles away.  DARPA was set the challenge of making aircraft vanish from radar screens. Radar bounces a focused beam of radio energy off an aircraft and detecting the return signal.  DARPA scientists knew that certain shapes were better at scattering radar energy away from the receiver, and they set about building an aircraft to take advantage of this.  The end result was the F-117 Nighthawk, the first ‘stealth’ aircraft. Its faceted shape reflects radar beams away from the source.  It is also coated with special radar­ absorbing material­ basically paint containing small metal particles.  It’s ugly and hard to fly but to radar, it’s invisible.

Portable Translators – When you join the Army you can get sent anywhere at short notice – but how do you cope with the language? A US Navy doctor in Kuwait found that he could communicate better with his Arab patients using sound files of  common phrases (‘take two of these tablets every four hours’) stored on his laptop.  The idea was taken up by DARPA which then funded the development of the Phraselator – a pocket-sized device that doesn’t just play stock phrases but also has built-in voice recognition.  You just speak into the Phraselator and it can translate the request into one of several languages.

PredatorUnmanned Planes – Early unmanned aircraft were really just big radio-controlled models or normal aircraft modified for remote control.  DARPA developed the concept of robot spy planes with a much longer endurance in the air. Because they never tire on long missions, this type of aircraft is especially useful for keeping a watch over borders searching for insurgents in wide open spaces.  DARPA developed an unmanned aircraft called the Gnat. The Gnat then evolvedInto the Predator,which was highly successful in supporting allied troops.  Unmanned aircraft are also used for scientific research everywhere from the tropics to Antarctica.

Story courtesy from IET’s Flipside

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