Tag Archive: DARPA


The Alpha IMS retinal prosthesis, implanted in a human patient

DARPA, at the behest of the US Department of Defense, is developing a black box brain implant — an implant that will be wired into a soldier’s brain and record their memories. If the soldier then suffers memory loss due to brain injury, the implant will then be used to restore those memories. The same implant could also be used during training or in the line of duty, too — as we’ve reported on in the past, stimulating the right regions of the brain can improve how quickly you learn new skills, reduce your reaction times, and more.

The project, which DARPA has wittily named Restoring Active Memory, is currently at the stage where it’s seeking proposals from commercial companies that have previously had success with brain implants, such as Medtronic. As yet, we don’t know who has submitted proposals to DARPA, but it’ll probably be the usual suspects. Medtronic, which creates deep-brain simulation (DBS) implants that are almost miraculous in their ability to control the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease (video embedded below), is surely interested. Brown University, which famously created a brain-computer interface that is implanted into the brain and communicates wirelessly with a nearby computer, must be a contender. Companies with big R&D budgets, like IBM and GE, might be involved as well.

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DARPA has declared the beginning of what it’s calling the Hydra project. Far from being a dastardly organization of Red Skull’s followers, Hydra is actually an ocean-based network of drones. Citing force reductions and “vast regions of interest around the globe,” DARPA means to employ an ocean-wide network of autonomous craft to supplement the US Navy.

DARPA program manager Scott Littlefield has grand designs for the project. He envisions a network of drones which are capable of both surveilance and carrying out military action on their own. In Littlefield’s own words:

“An unmanned technology infrastructure staged below the oceans’ surface could relieve some of that resource strain and expand military capabilities in this increasingly challenging space.”

Working in tandem with aerial drones and manned vessels, Hydra drones would be submarine vehicles capable of launching smart weapons and even more drones from beneath the ocean’s surface. If this sort of omni-present military system proves itself at sea, similar networks could be considered on land, possibly even ones that replace DARPA’s Hydra drones with terminators. Don’t you feel safe now?

Humans beware: Skynet is one step closer to actually happening.

The Pentagon is readying a four-year project to boost AI systems by building machines that can teach themselves and get smarter over time while also making it easier for ordinary people to build them.

The Pentagon is using its research division, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, to back this project. DARPA is inviting scientists to a Virginia conference to brainstorm on April 10.

Machine learning can be used to make better systems for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; a core military necessity. It can also be used for making better speech recognition systems, self-driving cars and to keep pace against internet spam filling up search engines and e-mail inboxes.

“Our goal is that future machine learning projects won’t require people to know everything about both the domain of interest and machine learning to build useful machine learning applications,” DARPA program manager Kathleen Fisher said in an announcement.

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The Pentagon’s blue-sky researchers are funding a project that uses crowdsourcing to improve how machines analyze our speech. Even more radical: Darpa wants to make systems so accurate, you’ll be able to easily record, transcribe and recall all the conversations you ever have.

Analyzing speech and improving speech-to-text machines has been a hobby horse for Darpa in recent years. But this takes it a step further, in exploring the ways crowdsourcing can make it possible for our speech to be recorded and stored forever. But it’s not just about better recordings of what you say. It’ll lead to more recorded conversations, quickly transcribed and then stored in perpetuity — like a Twitter feed or e-mail archive for everyday speech. Imagine living in a world where every errant utterance you make is preserved forever.

University of Texas computer scientist Matt Lease has studied crowdsourcing for years, including for an earlier Darpa project called Effective Affordable Reusable Speech-to-text, or EARS, which sought to boost the accuracy of automated transcription machines. His work has also attracted enough attention for Darpa to award him a $300,000 award over two years to study the new project, called “Blending Crowdsourcing with Automation for Fast, Cheap, and Accurate Analysis of Spontaneous Speech.” The project envisions a world that is both radically transparent and a little freaky.

The idea is that business meetings or even conversations with your friends and family could be stored in archives and easily searched. The stored recordings could be held in servers, owned either by individuals or their employers. Lease is still playing with the idea — one with huge implications for how we interact.

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A new DARPA program called VAPR, for Vanishing Programmable Resources, is seeking to create “transient electronics” that can ‘vapr’ize themselves when they’re no longer being used:

“Transient electronics developed under VAPR should maintain the current functionality and ruggedness of conventional electronics, but, when triggered, be able to degrade partially or completely into their surroundings. Once triggered to dissolve, these electronics would be useless to any enemy who might come across them.”

Apparently, electronics have become so pervasive that after combat they’re littered all over the battlefield to the extent that picking them all up would be impractical. The concern is that “the enemy” is able to “repurpose and study” said electronics, compromising our “strategic technical advantage.” So great, let’s just make ‘em all disappear instead!

DARPA, of course, has no idea how these disappearing electronics will actually work, but the concept is that something as complicated as an encrypted radio signal or as simple as a change in temperature would set any VAPR electronics off. The first incarnation is likely to be some sort of cheap sensor that could be deployed in a hostile area, send back data, and then melt into uselessness, but there are a lot of different places you could go if you got something like this to work properly. The danger, of course, is that an evil genius manages to crack your radio signal or whatever, and that your fancy new arsenal melts right before your eyes.

A sinister airborne surveillance camera gives the U.S. military the ability to track movements in an entire city like a real-time Google Street View.

The ARGUS-IS array can be mounted on unmanned drones to capture an area of 15 sq/miles in an incredible 1,800MP – that’s 225 times more sensitive than an iPhone camera.

From 17,500ft the remarkable surveillance system can capture objects as small as 6in on the ground and allows commanders to track movements across an entire battlefield in real time.

Beat that, Google: An image taken from 17,500ft by the U.S. military's ARGUS-IS array, which can capture 1,800MP zoomable video feeds of an entire medium-sized city in real time‘It is important for the public to know that some of these capabilities exist,’ said Yiannis Antoniades, the BAE engineer who designed the system, in a recent PBS broadcast.

The aerospace and weapons company developed the ARGUS-IS array as part of a $18.5million project funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa).

In Greek mythology, Argus Panoptes, guardian of the heifer-nymph Io and son of Arestor, was a primordial giant whose epithet, ‘Panoptes’, ‘all-seeing’, led to his being described with multiple, often one hundred, eyes.

Like the Titan of myth, the Pentagon’s ARGUS-IS (a backronym standing for Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Imaging System) works by stringing together an array of 368 digital camera imaging chips.

An airborne processor combines the video from these chips to create a single ultra-high definition mosaic video image which updates at up to 15 frames a second.

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In what looks like a robot scene pulled from The Terminator, a government agency has released a video of a search-and-rescue robot that can do everything from climb stairs to crossing narrow passages

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — which is a part of the U.S. Department of Defense — uploaded the video to YouTube to bring attention to the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). The contest is looking for robots who can maneuver and assist during dangerous and disaster relief situations. The winning team will be rewarded $2 million.

The robot in the video — which is called Pet-Proto and is the predecessor to DARPA’s Atlas robot — undergoes a series of obstacles similar to what robots will face in the challenge. The robot has decision-making abilities to determine the best route to go, when to jump and what to avoid.

The Pentagon hasn’t made much progress in solving the PTSD crisis plaguing this generation of soldiers. Now it’s adding new staff members to the therapy teams tasked with spotting the signs of emotional pain and providing therapy to the beleaguered. Only this isn’t a typical hiring boost. The new therapists, Danger Room has learned, will be computer-generated “virtual humans,” used to offer diagnostics, and programmed to appear empathetic.

It’s the latest in a long series of efforts to assuage soaring rates of depression, anxiety and PTSD that afflict today’s troops. Military brass have become increasingly willing to try just about anything, from yoga and reiki to memory-adjustment pills, that holds an iota of promise. They’ve even funded computerized therapy before: In 2010, for example, the military launched an effort to create an online health portal that’d include video chats with therapists. But this project, funded by Darpa, the Pentagon’s far-out research arm, is way more ambitious. Darpa’s research teams are hoping to combine 3-D rendered simulated therapists — think Sims characters mixed with ELIZA — with sensitive analysis software that can actually detect psychological symptoms “by analyzing facial expressions, body gestures and speech,” Dr. Albert Rizzo, who is leading the project alongside Dr. Louis-Philippe Morency, tells Danger Room. The therapists won’t treat patients, but they will help flesh-and-blood counselors by offering a general diagnosis of what ails soldiers, and how serious the problem is.

For now, the system, called SIM Sensei, is being designed for use at military medical clinics. A soldier could walk into the clinic, enter a private kiosk, and log on to a computer where his or her personal simulated therapist — yes, you can pick from an array of different animated docs — would be waiting. Using Kinect-like hardware for motion sensing, a microphone and a webcam, the computer’s software would take note of how a patient moved and how they spoke. The video above offers a demonstration of what a SIM Sensei would look like, and how they’d interact with a patient. In fact, the video is a demonstration of another Pentagon-funded program, called SIM Coach, upon which SIM Sensei will be based. SIM Coach is meant to be used by soldiers inside their own homes, and doesn’t incorporate analysis tech the way SIM Sensei will.

SIM Sensei won’t replace human clinicians. Instead, it’ll supplement them, and help military clinics prioritize which patients need care most acutely, and which can wait to see a flesh-and-blood doctor. If a soldier talking to the SIM exhibits minor symptoms, the Sensei might help him or her schedule an appointment to see a human therapist in two weeks’ time. But if the Sensei detects “red flags” in an individual’s behavior — vocal patterns that signal depression, for example — the SIM could schedule that patient to see a doctor immediately. “Let’s say you have a more serious case, where it becomes evident to the Sensei that a patient is exhibiting major depression or might be a suicide risk,” Dr. Rizzo tells Danger Room. “The computer could immediately call for a human doctor to come take over.”

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Imagine robots that can do everything you can do — and probably do it even better.

Brace yourself, because that era might be here sooner than you think: The Pentagon agency behind some of the most important robotics research will soon challenge experts worldwide to come up with humanoid robots that can navigate their environment and handle tools with near-Homo sapiens skill.

Within the next few weeks, Darpa, the Pentagon’s far-out research arm, is expected to launch its contest, which will likely ask roboteers to build a bipedal robot that can do things like drive cars, open doors, traverse rough terrain and show off its fine motor skills, perhaps by repairing busted pipes.

Word of Darpa’s plans was initially leaked to Hizook.com, a website that covers robotics. The site later confirmed details of the agency’s endeavor with Kent Massey, the director of advanced programs at HDT Robotics. Massey attended a recent speech by Darpa program director Dr. Gill Pratt, who outlined the new challenge. Danger Room confirmed Massey’s account with other attendees.

“The goal of this Grand Challenge is to create a humanoid robot that can operate in an environment built for people and use tools made for people,” Massey told Hizook.com in an e-mail. “The specific challenge is built around an industrial disaster response.”

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SeeMe Satellites The SeeMe program would give warfighters the ability to receive timely imagery of their specific overseas location directly from a small satellite, all at the press of a button.

Warfighters have plenty of eyes in the sky, with a massive drone fleet and a satellite network that can spot their locations on the ground. But satellites are only helpful when they’re overhead, and battlefield situations can’t wait for orbital physics. To solve this problem, DARPA wants a swarm of cheap satellites nestled between the big ones up above and the aerial drones down below. The satellite swarm would be positioned in tactical orbits and able to send a space-based image back to any individual who wants a picture.

The SeeMe program (Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements) would use a smartphone or tablet to send a command, according to DARPA. A soldier or marine would press “see me” on a handheld device, and a satellite above would find the person and send back an image within an hour and a half. DARPA is seeking proposals for these satellites from the mobile phone, optics and racecar industries, which could have some ideas about low-cost manufacturing, imaging and propulsion.

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There’s a growing threat to the U.S. military, according to the Pentagon’s premier research wing. No, it’s not Iran’s nukes or China’s missiles. It’s the iPads, Android phones and other gadgets we all carry around with us every day.

“Commercial consumer electronics has created vulnerabilities by enabling sensors, computing, imaging, and communications capabilities that as recently as 15 years ago, were the exclusive domain of military systems,” Darpa deputy director Kaigham “Ken” Gabriel tells the House Armed Services Committee’spanel on emerging threats. “These capabilities now are in the hands of hundreds of millions of people around the world and in use every day.”

“This is not an abstract vulnerability. We have not enjoyed spectrum dominance since about 1997,” he adds.

The warning is a bit ironic, coming from the head of an agency that was founded in response to a surprise Soviet space launch, and is today best known for its shape-shifting robots, its mind-controlled prosthetics, and its missiles that fly at 20 times the speed of sound.

But Gabriel, in his written testimony, says the consumer tech threat is very real — especially to the Pentagon’s once unparalleled ability to wage electronic warfare. Today’s communications deviceshopscotch between frequencies in a way that makes them tough to spoof or jam. Tomorrow’s electronics — which will likely rely on lasers to pass along data and phone conversations — will be even tougher to stop.

“In both waveform complexity and carrier frequency, adversaries have moved to operating regimes currently beyond the capabilities of our systems,” Gabriel says.

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Plenty of geeks are already obsessed with self-tracking, from monitoring sleep rhythms to graphing caffeine intake versus productivity. Now, the Department of Defense’s far-out research agency is after the ultimate kind of Quantified Self: Soldiers with implanted body sensors that keep intimate tabs on their health, around the clock.

In a new call for research, Darpa is asking for proposals to devise prototype implantable biosensors. Once inserted under a soldier’s skin, Darpa wants the sensors to provide real-time, accurate measurements of “DoD-relevant biomarkers” including stress hormones, like cortisol, and compounds that signal inflammation, like histamine.

Implantable sensors are only the latest of several Pentagon-backed ventures to track a soldier’s health. Darpa’s already looked into tracking “nutritional biomarkers” to evaluate troops’ diets. And as part of the agency’s “Peak Soldier Performance” program, Darpa studied how one’s genes impact physical ability, and tried to manipulate cellular mitochondria to boost the body’s energy levels.

Sensors alone won’t make troops stronger, smarter or more resilient. But they’d probably offer the kind of information that could. For one thing, the sensors would provide military docs an array of reliable info about the health of every single soldier. Plus, they’d tell leaders how a soldier’s body stood up to grueling physical training or a tough deployment. Tracking changes in the body’s endocrine system, for example, might tell a physician that a soldier is increasingly sleep deprived. Or observing chronically increased inflammation levels might tell a team leader that trainee number five isn’t cut out for the Navy SEALs.

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Soldiers practically inhabiting the mechanical bodies of androids, who will take the humans’ place on the battlefield. Or sophisticated tech that spots a powerful laser ray, then stops it from obliterating its target.

If you’ve got Danger Room’s taste in movies, you’ve probably seen both ideas on the big screen. Now Darpa, the Pentagon’s far-out research arm, wants to bring ‘em into the real world.

In the agency’s $2.8 billion budget for 2013, unveiled on Monday, they’ve allotted $7 million for a project titled “Avatar.” The project’s ultimate goal, not surprisingly, sounds a lot like the plot of the same-named (but much more expensive) flick.

According the agency, “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.”

These robots should be smart and agile enough to do the dirty work of war, Darpa notes. That includes the “room clearing, sentry control [and] combat casualty recovery.” And all at the bidding of their human partner.

Freaky? Um, yes. But the initiative does strike as the next logical step in Darpa’s robotics research. For one thing, the agency’s already been investigating increasingly autonomous, lifelike robots, including Petman (a headless humanoid), designed to mimic a soldier’s physiology, and AlphaDog (a gigantic, lumbering, four-legged beast), meant to lug gear during combat.

And just last week, when Darpa released a new video of AlphaDog cavorting through the forest, the agency noted that they wanted the ‘bot to “interact with [soldiers] in a natural way, similar to the way a trained animal and its handler interact.” AlphaDog is even being designed to follow a human commander using visual sensors, and respond to vocal commands.

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You can run, you can hide, but the masterminds in the military’s high-tech research arm have their eyes on a gadget that will allow them to hear your racing heart even as you try to get lost in a crowd.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency already has the technology to hear your heart as you crouch and cower in a dark corner across the room. Now the agency aims to increase its ability to do this at even greater distances, through walls — and even hear and distinguish between multiple hearts at once.

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