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Friday, December 21, 2012

What is DARPA, and why is it important?

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Here is an essay I had to write for my government class.  After researching about DARPA. I found out just how important it is to every citizen in America and decided to share it.  You may have no idea what this agency even is, but without it, you would not be reading this article, nor any others, at this moment.  Read on to find out some interesting information about one of the most innovative agencies in the world.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was established in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in response to the Russian satellite technology, Sputnik (Defense Advanced Research).  It was created to “prevent future strategic surprise from negatively impacting security” and to ensure that the United States continues to be technologically superior to foreign militaries.  DARPA is one of the most secretive and innovative agencies in the federal government.  As an agency under the Department of Defense, it is located in the Pentagon and is directed by Arati Prabhakar.  Two hundred forty employees with varying backgrounds conduct research and create the technology of tomorrow; they come from the fields of biology, medicine, computer science, chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, material science, social sciences, and neurosciences.  With so many backgrounds, this diverse crew ensures that the government stays on top of its game in nearly every field of technology.  DARPA has an annual budget of $2.8 billion (Drummond 2012).  With this, they create products that are directly implemented into the military.  Many of these technological advances then make their way into the consumer market, where they change the way civilians live.  The 1973 Internetting Project is the greatest example of this, as it brought with it the invention of the Internet and TCP / IP protocols (Defense Advanced Research).  More recently, DARPA even created the foundation for Apple’s critically-acclaimed virtual assistant, Siri (Penenberg 2011).  Siri started as cognitive software that could learn and respond to battlefield issues with artificial intelligence.  While these projects themselves seem great, their current projects are ones that would blow most peoples’ minds.

Perhaps the most exciting project that is currently being conducted by DARPA (that is known to the public) is Project Avatar.  It was inspired by James Cameron’s blockbuster film, “Avatar.”  The goal of this $7 million project is to create a humanoid robot that can be controlled remotely by brain waves (Drummond 2012).  As described by DARPA itself, “the Avatar program will develop interfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bi-pedal machine and allow it to act as the soldier’s surrogate.”  This project will involve much development in both computer science and robotics.  If successful, it could save thousands of lives by allowing soldiers to remotely fight instead of risking being physically in the battle.  Once developed, this will not be a simple, useless robot.  It is hoped that it will be able to carry on massive operatives, such as room clearing, sentry control, and combat casualty recovery.  While this project may seem out of reach for the near future, DARPA has already created life-like robots and machinery that can be controlled by brain waves.  The next step is to expand remote operation and telepresence abilities.

Project Excalibur is another DARPA project that shows the future of what warfare will become.  The goal of Excalibur is to create a high-powered tactical laser that would be light and compact enough to use on the battlefield.  The government has already developed laser technology that is powerful enough to cause damage in battle, but it is far too heavy and large to use.  Those on the Excalibur team hope to make a new laser cannon that is ten times lighter and more compact than those currently available.  They hope to make it powerful enough to shoot a 150 kW beam (Wang 2011).  If created, this could be integrated into aircraft to defend against oncoming rockets, artillery, and enemy aircraft.  This laser could fire a beam that could stretch several kilometers.  The goal is to create this laser system in a mass of less than 750 kg.  As of February 2011, two designs have already been drafted that have exceeded 34 kW (Wang 2011).  The hope is to make this five times as powerful and change the way the United States defends itself in air-to-air and air-to-ground engagements.

While few Americans even know about this agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is one of the greatest government agencies in existence.  It invents things that directly impact every citizen’s life.  It provides defense technology that keeps America on top of its game and sparks innovations that later make their way into the consumer market.  While it does have a hefty budget of $2.8 billion, this is less than a third of a percent of the military’s budget and provides technology that changes the way that Americans live and defend themselves.  With a minimal budget of $7 million, Project Avatar will bring forth innovative technology, while having no impact on the overall budget whatsoever.  Remote warfare will spare American lives and make the military more advanced than can be imagined.  Humanoid robots will have the ability to save civilians and confront enemies in places where people could currently never go safely.  Technological development is perhaps one of the best investments in America’s future.  When technology expands, businesses, as well as consumers, thrive.  While billions of dollars are being invested in DARPA every year, this investment will pay off in the end, as it will make America stronger and has the potential to greatly increase the aggregate supply of our country in the future through the creation of more advanced capital and technology.  Technology impacts every aspect of peoples’ lives, even when they are not aware of it.  As computers become more powerful, traditional battlefields will transition into lines of computer code.  Robotics, as well as computer programming, will become the most powerful weapon in the world.  Already, computer hacking has become a way to gain crucial intelligence.  Investments in DARPA will ensure that America stays on top of its game and continues to lead in every field of military and consumer technology.

                                                  Resources
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA, 2012. Web. 14 Dec. 2012. <http://www.darpa.mil/default.aspx>.
Drummond, Katie. "Pentagon’s Project ‘Avatar’: Same as the Movie, but With Robots Instead of Aliens." Wired. Condé Nast, 16 Feb. 2012. Web. 14 Dec. 2012. <http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/02/darpa-sci-fi/>.
Penenberg, Adam L. "Siri-ously DARPA." Fast Company. Mansueto Ventures LLC., 4 Oct. 2011. Web. 14 Dec. 2012. <http://www.fastcompany.com/1785221/siri-ously-darpa>.
Wang, Brian. "DARPA's photonics projects - At the edge of possibility ." Next Big Future. N.p., 13 Sept. 2011. Web. 14 Dec. 2012. <http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/09/darpas-photonics-projects-at-edge-of.html>. 
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