DARPA

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Advanced materials are increasingly embodying counterintuitive properties, such as extreme strength and super lightness, while additive manufacturing and other new technologies are vastly improving the ability to fashion these novel materials into shapes that would previously have been extremely costly or even impossible to create. Generating new designs that fully exploit these properties, however, has proven extremely challenging. Conventional design technologies, representations, and algorithms are inherently constrained by outdated presumptions about material properties and manufacturing methods. As a result, today’s design technologies are simply not able to bring to fruition the enormous level of physical detail and complexity made possible with cutting-edge manufacturing capabilities and materials.

To address this mismatch, DARPA announced its TRAnsformative DESign (TRADES) program. TRADES is a fundamental research effort to develop new mathematics and algorithms that can more fully take advantage of the almost boundless design space that has been enabled by new materials and fabrication methods.

“The structural and functional complexities introduced by today’s advanced materials and manufacturing methods have exceeded our capacity to simultaneously optimize all the variables involved,” said Jan Vandenbrande, DARPA program manager. “We have reached the fundamental limits of what our computer-aided design tools and processes can handle, and need revolutionary new tools that can take requirements from a human designer and propose radically new concepts, shapes and structures that would likely never be conceived by even our best design programs today, much less by a human alone.”

For example, designing a structure whose components vary significantly in their physical or functional properties, such as a phased array radar, and an aircraft skin, is extremely complicated using available tools. Usually the relevant components are designed separately and then they are joined. TRADES envisions coming up with more elegant and unified designs—in this case, perhaps embedding the radar directly into the vehicle skin itself—potentially reducing cost, size and weight of future military systems. Similarly, existing design tools cannot take full advantage of the unique properties and processing requirements of advanced materials, such as carbon fiber composites, which have their own shaping requirements. Not accounting for these requirements during design can lead to production difficulties and defects, and in extreme cases require manual hand layup. Such problems could be mitigated or even eliminated if designers had the tools to account for the characteristics and manufacturing and processing requirements of the advanced materials.

“Much of today’s design is really re-design based on useful but very old ideas,” Vandenbrande said. “The design for building aircraft fuselages today, for example, is based on a spar-and-rib concept that dates back to design ideas from four thousand years ago when ancient ships such as the Royal Barge of Khufu used this basic design concept for its hull. TRADES could revolutionize such well-worn designs.”

DARPA is interested in receiving proposals with novel concepts to build future design tools from a diverse technical community beyond the classic computer-aided design and physical modeling communities. Examples of other communities of interest include animation, materials science, applied math, data analytics and artificial intelligence.

A Proposers Day has been scheduled for 13 May 2016, in Arlington, Virginia.

Additive manufacturing, including emerging “3D printing” technologies, is booming. Last year an astronaut on the International Space Station used a 3D printer to make a socket wrench in space, hinting at a future when digital code will replace the need to launch specialized tools into orbit. Here on Earth, the Navy is considering applications for additive manufacturing aboard ships, and a commercial aircraft engine company recently announced its first FAA-approved 3D-printed part. Despite its revolutionary promise, however, additive manufacturing is still in its infancy when it comes to understanding the impact of subtle differences in manufacturing methods on the properties and capabilities of resulting materials. Overcoming this shortcoming is necessary to enable reliable mass production of additively manufactured structures such as aircraft wings or other complex components of military systems, which must meet demanding specification requirements.

DARPA’s Open Manufacturing program seeks to solve this problem by building and demonstrating rapid qualification technologies that comprehensively capture, analyze and control variability in the manufacturing process to predict the properties of resulting products. Success could help unleash the potential time and cost saving benefits of advanced manufacturing methods for a broad range of defense and national security needs.

“The Open Manufacturing program is fundamentally about capturing and understanding the physics and process parameters of additive and other novel production concepts, so we can rapidly predict with high confidence how the finished part will perform,” said Mick Maher, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office. “The reliability and run-to-run variability of new manufacturing techniques are always uncertain at first, and as a result we qualify these materials and processes using a blunt and repetitive ‘test and retest’ approach that is inevitably expensive and time-consuming, ultimately undermining incentives for innovation.”

The challenge with additively manufactured parts is that they are typically composed of countless micron scale weld beads piled on top of each other. Even when well known and trusted alloys are used, the additive process produces a material with a much different microstructure, endowing the manufactured part with different properties and behaviors than would be expected if the same part were made by conventional manufacturing. Moreover, parts made on different machines may be dissimilar enough from each other that current statistical qualification methods won’t work. Accordingly, each new material must be precisely understood and the new process controlled to ensure the required degree of confidence in the manufactured product.

To achieve this enhanced manufacturing control, Open Manufacturing is investigating rapid qualification technologies that could be applied not just to additive manufacturing but to any of a range of potentially new manufacturing methodologies. The program comprises three efforts two focusing on metal additive processes and one on bonded composite structures:

  • The Rapid Low Cost Additive Manufacturing (RLCAM) effort aims to use first-principles and physics-based modeling to predict materials performance for direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) using a nickel-based super alloy powder. In DMLS a laser melts the metal powder to additively build a 3D product.
  • The Titanium Fabrication (tiFAB) effort aims to combine physics and data based informatics models to determine key parameters that affect the quality of large manufactured structures, such as aircraft wings. tiFAB is a method that uses an electron beam instead of a laser to melt spool-fed titanium wire to build up a structure layer by layer.
  • The Transition Reliable Unitized Structure (TRUST) effort aims to develop data informatics approaches for quantification of the composite bonding process to enable adhesives alone to join composite structures. State-of-the-art techniques rely on mechanical fasteners in addition to adhesives. TRUST seeks to eliminate the reliance on these fasteners, thereby enabling bonded composites to take advantage of adhesive joining to streamline assembly and lighten the weight of the structures.


The Open Manufacturing program has established two Manufacturing Demonstration Facilities (MDFs); one at Penn State focused on additive manufacturing and the other at the Army Research Laboratory focused on bonded composites. The goal of these MDFs is to establish permanent reference repositories that endure long after the Open Manufacturing program concludes, where individuals can access various contributed approaches and processes models. The facilities also serve as testing centers to demonstrate applications of the technology being developed for the Department of Defense, its industrial base, and other agencies, and as a catalyst to accelerate adoption of the technology.

Open-Manufacturing also is developing several advanced manufacturing techniques to support defense needs. One of these, MicroFactory for MacroProducts, uses more than 1,000 microbots, each smaller than a penny, that zip around like small insects to efficiently assembly truss structures. Microbots have fabricated 12-inch truss structures with integrated electronics as a proof-of-concept, showing the potential for massive parallelism where thousands of microbots could simultaneously and efficiently build intricate truss structures. This technology could be applied to rapid production of advanced electronics for military systems or constructing wings for very small unmanned aerial systems, for example.

To support warfighters, the program is also demonstrating a framework for affordable, rapid manufacturing of customized orthoses, such as leg supports for injured veterans, in quantities of one. This effort would transform the current “artisan” approach for making customized orthoses—where each device is custom-crafted by a specialist—to an automated process allowing greater patient access, rapid device modifications and improved durability.

Another concept being advanced is seamstress-less sewing, which could enable rapid production of U.S. military uniforms in the United States at lower cost. This demonstrated robotic system uses computer vision to accurately and quickly sew fabrics together with fine thread-count precision. Beyond its potential to support cost-efficient fabrication of U.S. military uniforms in the United States, this technology has the potential to boost the domestic apparel industry in general by, for example, enabling customized apparel production directly from a design.

“Historically, U.S. military advantages were supplied by breakthroughs in materials and manufacturing,” Maher said. “More recently, the risks that come along with new manufacturing have caused a lack of confidence that has stifled adoption. Through the Open Manufacturing program, DARPA is empowering the advanced manufacturing community by providing the knowledge, control, and confidence to use new technology."

For more information, visit: www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/DSO/Programs/Open_Manufacturing_%28OM%29.aspx

DARPA defines its research portfolio within a framework that puts the Agency's enduring mission in the context of tomorrow's environment for national security and technology. An integral part of this strategy includes establishing and sustaining a pipeline of talented scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who are motivated to pursue high risk, high payoff fundamental research in disciplines that are critical to maintaining the technological superiority of the U.S. military.

DARPA's Young Faculty Awards (YFA) program addresses this need by funding the work of promising researchers and pairing them with DARPA program managers. This pairing provides YFA researchers with mentoring and networking opportunities as well as exposure to DoD technology needs and the overall research and development process. The 2014 YFA solicitation includes technical topic areas in the physical sciences, engineering, materials, mathematics, biology, computing, informatics and manufacturing disciplines that are relevant to the research interests of DARPA's Defense Sciences and Microsystems Technology Offices.

"YFA offers promising junior faculty members and their peers at nonprofit research institutions the chance to do potentially revolutionary work much earlier in their careers than they otherwise could," said William Casebeer, DARPA program manager for the 2014 class. "By expanding the list of research topics this year from 13 to 18 - our largest portfolio since the program started in 2006 - we hope to attract even more creative proposals that could lead to future breakthroughs on critical defense challenges. The growth reflects how successful past awardees have been in supporting DARPA's mission."

Eligible applicants must be employed in U.S. institutions of higher learning and within five years of appointment to a tenure-track position, or hold equivalent positions at non-profit research institutions.

Researchers selected for YFA grants receive up to $500,000 in funding over a 24-month period. As many as four of the most exceptional performers may be selected to receive up to another $500,000 over an additional year under a DARPA Director's Fellowship.

DARPA is, for the first time, permitting proposers to form partnerships with subcontractors. The subcontractor relationship cannot exceed 30 percent of the total grant value. In addition to enhancing the competitiveness of proposed research plans, this change is designed to provide young investigators with the opportunity to manage a multidisciplinary team and gain a better understanding of the work performed by a DARPA program manager.

"The YFA program represents a strategic investment in fundamental research and professional development of the next generation of scientists and engineers focused on defense and national security issues," said Mari Maeda, director of DARPA's Defense Sciences Office. "It also benefits the young researchers and their institutions by engaging them in valuable, high-risk, high-impact research, providing a mentoring relationship with a DARPA program manager, expanding channels for future ideas to flow, and, now, exposing them to the rigors of managing a multidisciplinary team."

The list of technical topic areas for 2014 includes:

  • Optimizing Supervision for Improved Autonomy
  • Neurobiological Mechanisms of Social Media Processing
  • Next-generation Neural Sensing for Brain-Machine Interfaces
  • Mathematical and Computational Methods to Identify and Characterize Logical and Causal Relations in Information
  • Time-Dependent Integrated Computational Materials Engineering
  • Long-range Detection of Special Nuclear Materials
  • Alternate Fusion Concepts
  • New Materials and Devices for Monitoring and Modulating Local Physiology
  • Methods and Theory for Fundamental Circuit-Level Understanding of the Human Brain
  • Hierarchically Complex Materials that Respond and Adapt
  • Disruptive Materials Processing
  • Disruptive Computing Architectures
  • Appliqué Antenna Elements for Platform Integration
  • Modeling Phonon Generation and Transport in the Near Junction Region of Wide-Bandgap Transistors
  • Advanced Automation and Microfluidic Technologies for Engineering Biology
  • Energy Recovery in Post-CMOS Technologies
  • Thin Film Transistors for High-performance RF and Power Electronics
  • Neural-inspired Computer Engineering

For more information, visit: www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=247637

Wednesday, 23 October 2013 09:57

DARPA Announces Cyber Grand Challenge

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What if computers had a “check engine” light that could indicate new, novel security problems? What if computers could go one step further and heal security problems before they happen?

To find out, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) intends to hold the Cyber Grand Challenge (CGC)—the first-ever tournament for fully automatic network defense systems. DARPA envisions teams creating automated systems that would compete against each other to evaluate software, test for vulnerabilities, generate security patches and apply them to protected computers on a network. To succeed, competitors must bridge the expert gap between security software and cutting-edge program analysis research. The winning team would receive a cash prize of $2 million.

“DARPA’s series of vehicle Grand Challenges were the dawn of the self-driving car revolution,” said Mike Walker, DARPA program manager. “With the Cyber Grand Challenge, we intend a similar revolution for information security. Today, our time to patch a newly discovered security flaw is measured in days. Through automatic recognition and remediation of software flaws, the term for a new cyber attack may change from zero-day to zero-second.”

Highly trained experts capable of reasoning about software vulnerabilities, threats and malware power modern network defense. These experts compete regularly on a global “Capture the Flag” tournament circuit, improving their skills and measuring excellence through head-to-head competition. Drawing on the best traditions of expert computer security competitions, DARPA aims to challenge unmanned systems to compete against each other in a real-time tournament for the first time.

“The growth trends we’ve seen in cyber attacks and malware point to a future where automation must be developed to assist IT security analysts,” said Dan Kaufman, director of DARPA’s Information Innovation Office, which oversees the Challenge.

The competition is expected to draw teams of top experts from across a wide range of computer security disciplines including reverse engineering, formal methods, program analysis and computer security competition. To encourage widespread participation and teaming, DARPA plans to host teaming forums on the CGC website.

For the first time, a cyber competition would take place on a network framework purpose-built to interface with automatic systems. Competitors would navigate a series of challenges, starting with a qualifying event in which a collection of software must be automatically analyzed. Competitors would qualify by automatically identifying, analyzing and repairing software flaws.

DARPA intends to invite a select group of top competitors s from the qualifying event to the Cyber Grand Challenge final event, slated for early to mid-2016. In that competition, each team’s system would automatically identify software flaws, scanning the network to identify affected hosts. Teams would score based on how capably their systems could protect hosts, scan the network for vulnerabilities and maintain the correct function of software. The winning team from the CGC finals would receive a cash prize of $2 million, with second place earning $1 million and third place taking home $750,000.

A Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) with specific information for potential competitors is available. Competitors can choose one of two routes: an unfunded track in which anyone capable of fielding a capable system can participate, and a funded track in which DARPA awards contracts to organizations presenting the most compelling proposals.

DARPA also plans in the near future to issue a second BAA for proposals to develop technologies to support the competition. Support technologies will include accessible visualization of a real-time cyber competition event, as well as custom problem sets. That BAA will be available on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

The program anticipates hosting two Challengers’ Days—one at DARPA’s offices in Arlington, Va., and the other on the West Coast—where interested competitors can learn more about the event.

For more information, visit: www.darpa.mil/cybergrandchallenge

Radios are used for a wide range of tasks, from the most mundane to the most critical of communications, from garage door openers to military operations. As the use of wireless technology proliferates, radios and communication devices often compete with, interfere with, and disrupt the operations of other devices. DARPA seeks innovative approaches that ensure robust communications in such congested and contested environments.

The DARPA Spectrum Challenge is a competition for teams to create software-defined radio protocols that best use communication channels in the presence of other users and interfering signals.

Using a standardized radio hardware platform, the team that finds the best strategies for guaranteeing successful communication in the presence of other competing radios will win.  In addition to bragging rights for the winning teams, one team could win as much as $150,000.

High priority radios in the military and civilian sectors must be able to operate regardless of the ambient electromagnetic environment, to avoid disruption of communications and potential loss of life. Rapid response operations, such as disaster relief, further motivate the desire for multiple radio networks to effectively share the spectrum without requiring direct coordination or spectrum preplanning. Consequently, the need to provide robust communications in the presence of interfering signals is of great importance.

“The Spectrum Challenge is focused on developing new techniques for assured communications in dynamic environments – a necessity for military and first responder missions. We have created a head-to-head competition to see who can transmit a set of data from one radio to another the most effectively and efficiently while being bombarded by interference and competing signals,” said Dr. Yiftach Eisenberg, DARPA program manager. “To win this competition teams will need to develop new algorithms for software-defined radios at universities, small businesses and even on their home computers.”

Registration for the Spectrum Challenge is expected to officially open in January 2013. Any U.S. academic institution, business, or individual, is eligible to compete, with certain restrictions.

For more information, visit: www.darpa.mil/spectrumchallenge

Small businesses may submit proposals to nine DARPA technical challenge topics through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program’s Department of Defense FY 2013.1 solicitation, which opened Dec. 17.

DARPA’s topics span the following tech areas: Materials/Processes, Electronics, Biomedical, Human Systems, Information Systems, Sensors and Space Platforms and range in focus from a portable, inexpensive and easy-to-use EEG device for medics in the field; to innovative techniques to automatically detect and patch vulnerabilities in networked, embedded systems; and integrated microsystems to sense and control warfighter physiology to enable extreme military dive operations.

“Small business R&D efforts may introduce disruptive technology or may identify breakthrough approaches to technology barriers that mitigate risk for larger DARPA programs,” said Susan Nichols, director of DARPA’s Small Business Programs Office. “The benefit for small businesses is commercializing the technology they develop to support defense and civilian uses.”

For more information, visit: www.dodsbir.net/solicitation/sbir131/darpa131.htm

It is often the case with new military technologies that warfighters need to adjust to their equipment to access needed capabilities. As missions shift, however, and warfighters are required to work in smaller teams and access more remote locations, it is technology that must adapt if it is to remain useful. Desirable features for many new man-portable systems include small size, light weight, minimal power consumption, low cost, ease of use, multi-functionality and, to the extent possible, network friendliness.

DARPA created the Pixel Network for Dynamic Visualization program, or PIXNET, to apply these features to the cameras and sensors used by dismounted warfighters and small combat units for battlefield awareness and threat detection and identification. PIXNET aims to develop helmet-mounted and clip-on camera systems that combine visible, near infrared, and infrared sensors into one system and aggregate the outputs. PIXNET technology would ingest the most useful data points from each component sensor and fuse them into a common, information-rich image that can be viewed on the warfighter’s heads-up display, and potentially be shared across units.

The base technologies DARPA proposes to use already exist and are currently used by warfighters. However, these devices typically have dedicated functionality, operate independently of one another and provide value only to the immediate operator. Through PIXNET, DARPA seeks to fuse the capabilities of these devices into a single multi-band system, thus alleviating physical overburdening of warfighters, and develop a tool that is network-ready, capable of sharing imagery with other warfighters.

“Existing sensor technologies are a good jumping-off point, but PIXNET will require innovations to combine reflective and thermal bands for maximum visibility during the day or night, and then package this technology for maximum portability. What we really need are breakthroughs in aperture design, focal plane arrays, electronics, packaging and materials science,” said Nibir Dhar, DARPA program manager for PIXNET.  “Success will be measured as the minimization of size, weight, power and cost of the system and the maximization of functionality.”

To help boost processing power while minimizing size and energy use, PIXNET sensors will interface wirelessly with an Android-based smart phone for fusing images and for networking among units. Although the primary focus of PIXNET is on sensor development, proposers are instructed to develop whatever apps are necessary to achieve the desired functionality for phone and camera.

In addition to technological innovation, proposers are encouraged to develop plans for transitioning the low-cost camera system into manufacturing. In the case of the helmet-mounted system, DARPA’s preferred cost goal in a manufacturing environment producing 10,000 units per month is $3,300 per unit.

For more information, visit: www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=6bca8b710332b6467f92fcf717d68875&tab=core&_cview=0

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is calling on innovators with expertise in designing and engineering drivetrain and mobility systems to collaboratively design elements of a new amphibious infantry vehicle, the Fast, Adaptable, Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG). Registration is now open for the FANG Mobility/Drivetrain Challenge, the first of three planned FANG Challenges, which is set to kick off in January 2013. The winning team will be awarded a $1,000,000 cash prize and will have its design built in the iFAB Foundry.

Each of the three planned challenges will focus on increasingly complex vehicle subsytems and eventually on the design of a full, heavy amphibious infantry fighting vehicle that conforms to the requirements of the Marine Corps’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV). In the course of the design challenges, participants will test DARPA’s META design tools and its VehicleFORGE collaboration environment, with the ultimate goal of demonstrating that the development timetable for a complex defense system can be compressed by a factor of five.

“FANG is applying a radical approach to the design and manufacture of a military ground vehicle while seeking to engage innovators outside of the traditional defense industry,” said Army Lt. Col Nathan Wiedenman, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “By tapping fresh ideas and innovation, we are striving to fundamentally alter the way systems are designed, built and verified to significantly improve DoD’s capacity to handle complexity, something that has rapidly outpaced DoD’s existing 1960s-era approaches to managing it.”

Many current approaches to the development of heavy military vehicles have proven inadequate for the timely delivery of much-needed capabilities to the warfighter. FANG’s primary goal is to fundamentally alter the way systems are designed by decoupling design and fabrication and using foundry-style manufacturing to compress the development process timeline.

The second FANG Challenge, which will focus on chassis and structural subsystems for survivability, is expected to take place in late 2013. The third and final FANG Challenge, which should result in a full vehicle design, is anticipated for 2014. In addition to receiving a cash prize, the winning team in the third and final challenge could have its vehicle tested by the Marine Corps alongside ACV prototypes in operational testing.

For more information or to register, visit: www.vehicleforge.org

This robot is made of silicone. It can walk, change color and light up in the dark. It can even change temperature. And it can do all of this for less than $100. In the future, robots like this might be made for just a few dollars.  

In a development to be reported in the August 17 issue of Science, researchers led by Drs. George Whitesides and Stephen Morin at Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering demonstrated that microfluidic channels in soft robots enable functions including actuation, camouflage, display, fluid transport and temperature regulation. The work is being performed under DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program.

Why does this matter to the Department of Defense? DARPA foresees robots of many shapes and sizes contributing to a wide range of future defense missions, but robotics is still a young field that has focused much of its attention so far on complex hardware. Consequently, the costs associated with robotics are typically very high. What DARPA has achieved with silicone-based soft robots is development of a very low cost manufacturing method that uses molds. By introducing narrow channels into the molds through which air and various types of fluids can be pumped, a robot can be made to change its color, contrast, apparent shape and temperature to blend with its environment, glow through chemiluminescence, and most importantly, achieve actuation, or movement, through pneumatic pressurization and inflation of the channels. The combination of low cost and increased capabilities means DARPA has removed one of the major obstacles to greater DoD adoption of robot technology.  

Gill Pratt, the DARPA program manager for M3, put the achievement in context: “DARPA is developing a suite of robots that draw inspiration from the ingenuity and efficiency of nature. For defense applications, ingenuity and efficiency are not enough—robotic systems must also be cost effective. This novel robot is a significant advance towards achieving all three goals.”

In the video above, a soft robot walks onto a bed of rocks and is filled with fluid to match the color of the rocks and break up the robot’s shape. The robot moves at a speed of approximately 40 meters per hour; absent the colored fluid, it can move at approximately 67 meters per hour. Future research will focus on smoothing the movements; however, speed is less important than the robot’s flexibility. Soft robots are useful because they are resilient and can maneuver through very constrained spaces.

For this demonstration, the researchers used tethers to attach the control system and pump pressurized gases and liquids into the robot. Tethered operation reduces the size and weight of such robots by leaving power sources and pumps off-board, but future prototypes could incorporate that equipment in a self-contained system. At a pumping rate of 2.25 milliliters per minute, color change in the robot required 30 seconds. Once filled, the color layers require no power to sustain the color.

Aside from their potential tactical value, soft robots with microfluidic channels could also have medical applications. The devices could simulate fluid vessels and muscle motion for realistic modeling or training, and may be used in prosthetic technology.

For more information, visit: www.darpa.mil

Innovation requires latitude to experiment and freedom to explore without fear of failure. Strategic innovation requires experimentation with a purpose. Every year since 2006, DARPA has awarded grants to promising academic scientists, engineers and mathematicians to foster strategic innovation in a defense context and, in the process, enhance basic research at colleges and universities throughout the United States. Under the auspices of the Young Faculty Awards (YFA) program, DARPA hopes to develop the next generation of researchers in key defense-related disciplines and encourage them to focus a significant portion of their careers on defense issues.

This year DARPA welcomes 51 recipients, hailing from 18 states and 34 academic institutions, who will each apply $300,000 grants over two years to a wide spectrum of basic research in areas spanning physical sciences, materials, mathematics and biology. Though the sponsored research is not expected to feed directly into DARPA programs, faculty and projects are selected in part for their potential to seed future breakthroughs in defense-related research areas. In fact, members of the 2006-2010 YFA classes participate in 27 recent or ongoing DARPA programs.

The leeway granted to YFA recipients to pursue innovative ideas is given in recognition of the fact that technological breakthroughs often result from cross-collaboration among disciplines and operating outside of commonly accepted disciplinary boundaries. YFA is designed to support that business model.

Ideas nurtured through YFA have shaped research in six DARPA programs to date, on top of their contributions to advancing basic science. At the same time, grant recipients experience professional benefits in their academic careers.

A record 560 researchers applied to YFA in 2012, marking a 38% increase over the 2011 applicant pool; applicants represented 46 states and territories, and 150 universities. DARPA selected 51 applicants to receive grants totaling approximately $15.3 million, representing the largest class of awardees since the program began. Each grant recipient will receive approximately $150,000 per year for two years.

A complete list of the 2012 Young Faculty Award recipients and research topics is available at: go.usa.gov/Gxc

Recently, students from universities across the country traveled to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) to participate in the first annual Field-Reversible Thermal Connector (RevCon) Challenge, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The RevCon Challenge asks undergraduate and graduate students to develop a novel design concept for a field-reversible, low-resistance thermal connector, which could be used in military electronic modules. The goal is to encourage science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and inspire future innovators to consider thermal management techniques and the key role they will play in tomorrow’s electronics.

Today, DARPA and ONR announce the second RevCon challenge. The program is managed by Avram Bar-Cohen, DARPA program manager and Mark Spector, ONR program officer. Student teams are invited to design a thermal connector with the chance to receive DARPA and ONR support for building their design and testing it at Johns Hopkins. Participants are asked to develop a novel field-reversible, low-resistance, thermal connector that could improve upon the presently available “wedgelocks.” Such thermal connectors are ubiquitous and critical components in high power, military electronic modules, where they serve to transfer heat from the edge of a printed circuit board to the water-cooled or air-cooled wall of the electronic module.

“This is a great opportunity for students looking for an idea for their fourth year design project,” said Bar-Cohen. “Participants will gain experience developing, assembling and demonstrating a potentially transformative technology. Finalists will have the unique opportunity to travel to Johns Hopkins for testing and to engage experts from DARPA, ONR and industry.”

During last year’s challenge, four teams from across the US were chosen to travel to JHU/APL to present their RevCons to a Government and industry panel and demonstrate their operation on an APL test rig. As results were displayed real-time on a large screen, the panel provided feedback to the students on their designs and shared their experiences and perspectives on the potential use of the student RevCons in actual military systems.

All four RevCons were evaluated with the JHU-APL test rig and all four exhibited better thermal resistances than the baseline commercial connector. The judges’ panel took special note of the diversity and creativity of the concepts implemented during the challenge. Prizes were awarded to the teams in the following categories:

Most Creative:
University of Missouri, Columbia: device based on magnetic force and ferrofluids University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: device based on linear actuators

Lowest Resistance:
Georgia Institute of Technology: device based on a copper plate with hydraulic fluid

Easiest to Implement:
University of California, Los Angeles: device based on a temperature-sensitive spring made of Ni-Ti compound

DARPA and ONR anticipate teams completing their designs during the fall semester, with final demonstrations occurring in the spring.

For more information, visit: www07.grants.gov/search/search.do;jsessionid=vmcJQGJGMnxxhtp0WXYnhNqZMvl5b3hT1LmHT8G58m1D2l7C5BTJ!487209127?oppId=184154&mode=VIEW

There’s a lot to be said for the road that is taken—it’s safe, it’s well lit, and you probably know where it leads. Rarely does an opportunity present itself to leave the road entirely and venture off in search of new vistas. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeks trailblazers to explore the unknown in the areas of visual and geospatial data analysis. Researchers will participate in a short-fuse, crucible-style environment to invent new approaches to the identification of people, places, things and activities from still or moving defense and open-source imagery.

“A lot can happen when you put seriously intelligent, seriously motivated people in a room with a mission and a deadline,” said Michael Geertsen, DARPA program manager and the force behind the Innovation House Study. “We are inviting a new generation of innovators to try out ideas in an environment that encourages diverse solutions and far-out thinking. If this model proves to be as successful as we believe it could be, it represents a new means for participating in Government-sponsored research projects.”

DARPA’s Innovation House Study, conducted with George Mason University in Arlington, Va., will provide a focused residential research environment for as many as eight teams. Interested team leaders are encouraged to submit proposals by July 31, 2012, detailing their plan to design, execute and demonstrate a radical, novel research approach to innovation in the area of extracting meaningful content from large volumes of varied visual and geospatial media. Selected teams will receive up to $50,000 in funding.

The Innovation House concept revolves around a collaborative, rather than competitive, environment. The study will run for eight weeks over two four week sessions from Sept. 17, 2012 to Nov. 9, 2012. In Phase I, teams are expected to produce an initial design and demonstrate in software the crucial capabilities that validate their approach. In Phase II, teams are expected to complete and demonstrate a functional software configuration as a proof of concept. Teams demonstrating sufficient progress in Phase I will receive Phase II funding.

DARPA will provide access to unclassified data sets and facilitate interaction with mentors from U.S. Government and academia. These interactions will provide teams with context for how their proposed technology could be applied in the realworld.

For more information, visit: c4i.gmu.edu/InnovationHouse

DARPA’s Advanced Wide FOV Architectures for Image Reconstruction and Exploitation (AWARE) program is currently developing a gigapixel camera. As part of the program, DARPA successfully tested cameras with 1.4 and 0.96 gigapixel resolution at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, DC. The gigapixel cameras combine 100-150 small cameras with a spherical objective lens. Local aberration correction and focus in the small cameras enable extremely high resolution shots with smaller system volume and less distortion than traditional wide field lens systems. The DARPA effort hopes to produce resolution up to 10 and 50 gigapixels—much higher resolution than the human eye can see. Analogous to a parallel-processor supercomputer, the AWARE camera design uses parallel multi-scale micro cameras to form a wide field panoramic image.

The AWARE program is developing new approaches and advanced capabilities in imaging to support a variety of Department of Defense missions.

For more information, visit: www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/MTO/Programs/Advanced_Wide_FOV_Architectures_for_Image_Reconstruction_and_Exploitation_%28AWARE%29.aspx

A robot that drives into an industrial disaster area and shuts off a valve leaking toxic steam might save lives. A robot that applies supervised autonomy to dexterously disarm a roadside bomb would keep humans out of harm’s way. A robot that carries hundreds of pounds of equipment over rocky or wooded terrain would increase the range warfighters can travel and the speed at which they move. But a robot that runs out of power after ten to twenty minutes of operation is limited in its utility. In fact, use of robots in defense missions is currently constrained in part by power supply issues. DARPA has created the M3 Actuation program, with the goal of achieving a 2,000 percent increase in the efficiency of power transmission and application in robots, to improve performance potential.

Humans and animals have evolved to consume energy very efficiently for movement. Bones, muscles and tendons work together for propulsion using as little energy as possible. If robotic actuation can be made to approach the efficiency of human and animal actuation, the range of practical robotic applications will greatly increase and robot design will be less limited by power plant considerations.

M3 Actuation is an effort within DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) robotics program, and adds a new dimension to DARPA’s suite of robotics research and development work.

“By exploring multiple aspects of robot design, capabilities, control and production, we hope to converge on an adaptable core of robot technologies that can be applied across mission areas,” said Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager. “Success in the M3 Actuation effort would benefit not just robotics programs, but all engineered, actuated systems, including advanced prosthetic limbs.”

Proposals are sought in response to a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA). DARPA expects that solutions will require input from a broad array of scientific and engineering specialties to understand, develop and apply actuation mechanisms inspired in part by humans and animals. Technical areas of interest include, but are not limited to: low-loss power modulation, variable recruitment of parallel transducer elements, high-bandwidth variable impedance matching, adaptive inertial and gravitational load cancellation, and high-efficiency power transmission between joints.

Research and development will cover two tracks of work:

  • Track 1 asks performer teams to develop and demonstrate high-efficiency actuation technology that will allow robots similar to the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) platform to have twenty times longer endurance than the DRC GFE when running on untethered battery power (currently only 10-20 minutes). Using Government Furnished Information about the GFE, M3 Actuation performers will have to build a robot that incorporates the new actuation technology. These robots will be demonstrated at, but not compete in, the second DRC live competition scheduled for December 2014.

  • Track 2 will be tailored to performers who want to explore ways of improving the efficiency of actuators, but at scales both larger and smaller than applicable to the DRC GFE platform, and at technical readiness levels insufficient for incorporation into a platform during this program. Essentially, Track 2 seeks to advance the science and engineering behind actuation without the requirement to apply it at this point.

While separate efforts, M3 Actuation will run in parallel with the DRC. In both programs DARPA seeks to develop the enabling technologies required for expanded practical use of robots in defense missions. Thus, performers on M3 Actuation will share their design approaches at the first DRC live competition scheduled for December 2013, and demonstrate their final systems at the second DRC live competition scheduled for December 2014.

For more information or to submit a proposal, visit: go.usa.gov/wDF

DARPA’s UAVForge, a crowdsourcing competition to design, build and manufacture an advanced small unmanned air vehicle (UAV), set out to determine if a loosely-connected community of UAV enthusiasts could develop a militarily relevant back-pack portable UAV with specific capabilities.  By using a crowdsourcing design approach, the effort sought to inspire innovation and creative thought by lowering barriers to entry and increasing the number and diversity of contributors.

More than 140 teams and 3,500 individuals from 153 countries and territories participated in the year-long competition. UAVForge concluded recently with nine finalist teams demonstrating air vehicles in a fly-off event at Ft. Stewart, Ga. The fly-off scenario, conducted on a training site, was a simulated military perch-and-stare reconnaissance mission, requiring vertical take-off, navigation to an area beyond the line of sight from the take-off location, landing on a structure and capturing video, and then returning to the starting point. While some teams were able to reach the observation area, none were able to land on a structure and complete the mission.

Persistent, beyond-line-of-sight, soldier-portable perch and stare intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) is a significant mission area of interest that shows promising capability, but hurdles of asset cost and complexity of use must be overcome.

“The teams brought creativity and enthusiasm to the competition,” said Jim McCormick, DARPA program manager. “The competition was more constructive than you might expect; there were many examples of teams helping each other.”

Since no team completed the fly-off event, the $100,000 prize will not be awarded, and a design will not be manufactured for further testing in a military exercise as originally envisaged.

For more information, visit: www.uavforge.net

During natural or man-made disasters, the U.S. armed forces’ rapidly deployable airlift, sealift, communication, and medical evacuation and care capabilities can supplement lead relief agencies in providing aid to victims. The Department of Defense’s 2012 strategic guidance document includes humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations as one of the missions for 21st Century defense.

DARPA’s Tactically Expandable Maritime Platform (TEMP) program has completed the design of innovative technologies to transform commercial container ships into self-contained floating supply bases during disaster relief operations, without needing port infrastructure. The program envisions a container ship anchoring offshore of a disaster area, and the ship’s crew delivering supplies ashore using DARPA-developed, modular on-board cranes and air- and sea-delivery vehicles.

“To allow military ships and aircraft to focus on unique military missions they alone can fulfill, it makes sense to develop technologies to leverage standard commercial container ships, used around the world daily, as a surge capacity for extended humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations,” said Scott Littlefield, DARPA program manager.

DARPA recently completed the first phase of the program, which developed four key modular systems, all of which are transportable using standard 20-foot or 40-foot commercial shipping containers. The elements include:

  • Core support modules—container-sized units that provide electrical power, berthing, water and other life-support requirements for an augmented crew aboard the container ship.
  • Motion-stabilized cranes—modular on-board cranes to allow transfer of cargo containers at sea from the ship deck over the side and onto a sea-delivery vehicle.
  • Sea-delivery vehicles—Captive Air Amphibious Transporters (CAAT) have air-filled pontoons on a tank tread-like design, enabling them to carry containers over water and directly onto shore.
  • Parafoil unmanned air-delivery system—a low-cost, propeller-driven air vehicle that uses a parachute for lift and carries urgent supplies from the container ship to stricken areas on shore.

While DARPA’s investment in demonstrating the technology has completed, the information obtained should reduce risk for efforts of the military Services or other government organizations with a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission.

For more information, visit: www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/TTO/Programs/Tactically_Expandable_Maritime_Platform_%28TEMP%29.aspx

Warfighters who encounter enemy forces on the ground benefit from overhead aircraft support. Some capabilities are lost, however, when cloud-cover obscures the view. Typically, airborne weapon systems that use electro-optic (EO) sensors during support missions can’t “see” through clouds. DARPA’s Video Synthetic Aperture Radar (ViSAR) program seeks to develop and demonstrate an Extremely High Frequency (EHF) targeting sensor which operates through clouds as effectively as today’s infrared (IR) sensors operate in clear weather.

“The goal is a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) that provides high-resolution, full-motion video to engage maneuvering ground targets through clouds or in the clear, without having to change tactics, techniques and procedures,” said Bruce Wallace, DARPA program manager. “Ultimately, we intend to demonstrate a cloud-penetrating EHF sensor in a moveable gimbal that could be mounted on a variety of aerial platforms.”

DARPA seeks technology proposals in flight-worthy electronics, including power amplifiers and integrated receiver and exciters that are small enough to fit easily aboard aircraft. Another key proposal area is the development of new algorithms which could exploit the features of this sensor technology.

“We’re looking for proposers with advanced expertise in scene simulation software to simulate realistic synthetic EHF radar data sets,” Wallace said. “We anticipate that the system developer will use these raw data sets to test image formation, autofocus, detection and geolocation algorithms.”

The ViSAR system expects to create SAR images of the background at frame rates greater than currently available. In addition, the system should have Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) capability to detect moving targets and reposition their returns in the correct location within the scene. The GMTI processing is done in parallel with SAR processing.

For more information, visit: https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&;mode=form&id=a8e8cba76bd5e6e1d5bd2f9370c8c1b4&tab=core&_cview=0

As iconic symbols of the future, robots rank high with flying cars and starships, but basic robots are already in use in emergency response, industry, defense, healthcare and education. DARPA plans to offer a $2 million prize to whomever can help push the state-of-the-art in robotics beyond today’s capabilities in support of the DoD’s disaster recovery mission.

DARPA’s Robotics Challenge will launch in October 2012.  Teams are sought to compete in challenges involving staged disaster-response scenarios in which robots will have to successfully navigate a series of physical tasks corresponding to anticipated, real-world disaster-response requirements.

Robots played a supporting role in mitigating fallout from the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan, and are used by U.S. military forces as assistants for servicemembers in diffusing improvised explosive devices.  True innovation in robotics technology could result in much more effective robots that could better intervene in high-risk situations and thus save human lives and help contain the impact of natural and man-made disasters.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge consists of both robotics hardware and software development tasks. It is DARPA’s position that achieving true innovation in robotics, and thus success in this challenge, will require contributions from communities beyond traditional robotics developers. The challenge is structured to increase the diversity of innovative solutions by encouraging participation from around the world including universities, small, medium and large businesses and even individuals and groups with ideas on how to advance the field of robotics.

“The work of the global robotics community brought us to this point—robots do save lives, do increase efficiencies and do lead us to consider new capabilities,” said Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager.  “What we need to do now is move beyond the state of the art.  This challenge is going to test supervised autonomy in perception and decision-making, mounted and dismounted mobility, dexterity, strength and endurance in an environment designed for human use but degraded due to a disaster.  Adaptability is also essential because we don’t know where the next disaster will strike.  The key to successfully completing this challenge requires adaptable robots with the ability to use available human tools, from hand tools to vehicles.   

“Robots undoubtedly capture the imagination, but that alone does not justify an investment in robotics,” said DARPA Acting Director, Kaigham J. Gabriel.  “For robots to be useful to DoD they need to offer gains in either physical protection or productivity.  The most successful and useful robots would do both via natural interaction with humans in shared environments.”    

The DARPA Robotics Challenge supports the National Robotics Initiative launched by President Barack Obama in June 2011.

To answer questions regarding the Robotics Challenge and provide an opportunity for interested parties to connect, DARPA will hold a virtual Proposers’ Day workshop on April 16, 2012.  This online workshop will introduce interested communities to the effort, explain the mechanics of this DARPA challenge, and encourage collaborative arrangements among potential performers from a wide range of backgrounds.  The meeting is in support of the DARPA Robotics Challenge Broad Agency Announcement.

For more information, visit: go.usa.gov/mVj

The use of ground robots in military explosive-ordinance-disposal missions already saves many lives and prevents thousands of other casualties.  If the current limitations on mobility and manipulation capabilities of robots can be overcome, robots could potentially assist warfighters across a greater range of missions.  DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program seeks to create and demonstrate significant scientific and engineering advances in robot mobility and manipulation capabilities.

This video shows a modified iRobot 510 PackBot equipped with an advanced suspension system maneuvering on a test course.  The compliant suspension improves the robot’s mobility over rough and uneven terrain.  The technological enhancement enables faster transit speeds, climbing of very steep slopes, improved heading control, greater accommodation of debris entering the suspension and reduced impact forces on carried payloads.

M3 is a research program aimed at improving robot capabilities through fundamentally new approaches to the engineering of better design tools, fabrication methods and control algorithms. The program covers scientific advancement across four parallel tracks: design tools, fabrication methodologies, control methods and technology-demonstration prototypes.  The prototypes demonstrated are designed to test technological advances in robotics across a range of functions, and are not necessarily intended to enter production for military use.

The DARPA M3 performer for the Advanced Suspension for Improved Mobility system is iRobot of Bedford, Mass.

For more information, visit: www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/DSO/Programs/Maximum_Mobility_and_Manipulation_%28M3%29.aspx

The Autonomous Robotic Manipulation (ARM) program is creating manipulators with a high degree of autonomy capable of serving multiple military purposes across a wide variety of application domains.  Current robotic manipulation systems save lives and reduce casualties, but are limited when adapting to multiple mission environments and need burdensome human interaction and lengthy time durations for completing tasks.

ARM seeks to enable autonomous manipulation systems to surpass the performance level of remote manipulation systems that are controlled directly by a human operator.  The program will attempt to reach this goal by developing software and hardware that enables robots to autonomously grasp and manipulate objects in unstructured environments, with humans providing only high-level direction.

The ARM program consists of three tracks:  software, hardware and outreach.  The hardware track focuses on design and development of low-cost dexterous multi-fingered hands taking advantage of recent manufacturing advancements.  The software track focuses on developing new algorithms and approaches for grasping and manipulation using local sensors for perception.  The outreach track engages a larger community by placing robotic systems in public museums (presently the National Air and Space Museum) and also encouraging unfunded participants to develop algorithms robot autonomy through the web to a real system.

This video shows the ARM robot performing 18 grasping and manipulation tasks using vision, force, and tactile sensing with full autonomy – no active human control. The DARPA-supplied robot was built using commercial components that include an arm, hand, neck, and head sensors.

During rigorous testing in November 2011, the best team achieved 93% success in grasping modeled and unmodeled objects.  The ARM program has entered its second phase, where focus turns to complex bimanual manipulation scenarios.

For more information, visit: www.darpa.mil

The use of ground robots in military explosive-ordinance-disposal missions already saves many lives and prevents thousands of other casualties.  If the current limitations on mobility and manipulation capabilities of robots can be overcome, robots could much more effectively assist warfighters across a greater range of missions.  DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program seeks to create and demonstrate significant scientific and engineering advances in robot mobility and manipulation capabilities.

The M3 program pursues four parallel tracks of research and development: tool design, improvement of production methods and processes, improvement in control of robot mobility and manipulation, and prototype demonstration.

This video shows a demonstration of the “Cheetah” robot galloping at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour (mph), setting a new land speed record for legged robots.  The previous record was 13.1 mph, set in 1989.

The robot’s movements are patterned after those of fast-running animals in nature.  The robot increases its stride and running speed by flexing and un-flexing its back on each step, much as an actual cheetah does.

The current version of the Cheetah robot runs on a laboratory treadmill where it is powered by an off-board hydraulic pump, and uses a boom-like device to keep it running in the center of the treadmill.  Testing of a free-running prototype is planned for later this year.

While the M3 program conducts basic research and is not focused on specific military missions, the technology it aims to develop could have a wide range of potential military applications.

The DARPA M3 performer for Cheetah is Boston Dynamics of Waltham, Mass.

Military missions place tremendous stress on the materials used for defense weapons, vehicles and other applications. As a result, the search for stronger, lighter and more resilient materials is never ending. Some materials have proven to have high pressure phases that could yield performance improvements in a variety of defense applications provided the processes could be scaled to create stable materials in the quantities needed for the defense mission. Applications range from stronger armor, to performance enhancement in propulsion, to greater resiliency in aerospace, ground and naval platforms. DARPA’s Extended Solids program seeks to identify processes that enable stabilization and production of high pressure phase materials, without the limitations of scale introduced by current high-pressure processes, that exhibit properties far superior to those currently available for DoD applications.

“We seek the ability to access these ultrahigh pressure phases without having to use the ultrahigh pressures currently required to achieve them,” said Judah Goldwasser, DARPA’s program manager for this effort.  “In the thermochemical regime, the ability to synthesize the vast array of materials available both biochemically and synthetically is predicated on exploitation of multistep synthesis and stabilization strategies, so target materials can be produced through intermediates using methods and conditions mild enough to be viable.”

Through this program, DARPA seeks the development of analogous strategies that can be applied to the barochemistry, or ultrahigh pressure regime. This technology could fundamentally change the way high-pressure polymorphs/phases are synthesized, potentially opening a vast new material design space for exploitation.

Goldwasser stressed that the complex nature of this research effort requires diverse sets of skills and expertise to meet program objectives and milestones, and encouraged potential researchers to team with others to help ensure success.

To increase awareness of this program and attract potential researchers, DARPA has scheduled a Proposers’ Day workshop Feb. 9 at the Executive Conference Center, 4075 Wilson Boulevard, third floor, in Arlington, Va.  This meeting is in support of the anticipated release of a Broad Agency Announcement for Extended Solids.  The purpose of this workshop is to introduce the research community to this effort and its goals, explain the mechanics of a DARPA research program and the objectives and milestones of this particular effort, and encourage collaborative arrangements among potential proposers who have the required expertise, facilities and capabilities to conduct research and develop in support of Extended Solids.  Proposers’ Day details are available through the Special Notice located here.  Interested researchers should register soon, as participation is limited to 100 (2 people per organization).  Deadline for registration is 5:00 p.m. EST Feb. 6.

For more information, visit: https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=c8fe62c346dd4921ced0aea036c474df&tab=core&_cview=0

Friday, 23 December 2011 10:50

DARPA Seeks Junior Faculty Innovators

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Securing research funding can be a challenge for tenure-track faculty with cutting-edge ideas but few connections. Those ideas may be the breakthroughs needed to advance critical science and technologies in support of the Defense mission. For the sixth year, DARPA will invest in the next generation of rising academic stars through its Young Faculty Award (YFA) Research Announcement.

Published on Grants.gov (RA-12-12), the YFA research announcement seeks research proposals in many areas such as physical sciences, engineering, mathematics, medicine biology and social science, and new areas including, neuroscience and brain-machine interface, strongly correlated materials, predictive materials science, and new engineered materials.

YFA applicants are required to be within five years of appointment to a tenure-track position at a U.S. institution of higher education.  To increase participation and ensure that the best and brightest are eligible, regardless of national origin, in 2010 eligibility requirements for applicants were amended to include non-U.S. citizens. Selected recipients receive a 24-month grant consisting of a 1-year base period and another year option period, with a maximum funding level of $150,000 per year.

More than just a budget item or a program, DARPA’s true investment with Young Faculty Awards is in people.  In 2010, DARPA made 33 YFA awards, which have led to continuing research opportunities for 15 postdoctoral fellows, 28 graduate and 13 undergraduate students.  Since receiving their awards this class has been hard at work, filing 16 patents to date, and publishing 97 papers, with another 58 in review.

“The goal of DARPA’s Young Faculty Award program is not only to provide funding for young faculty researchers, but also to inspire them to serve their country by contributing their talents to help solve some of the most challenging problems of our time from vaccine production to cyber security,” said DARPA Director, Regina E. Dugan.

Jay Schnitzer, office director, DARPA Defense Sciences Office added, “DARPA recognizes the real need to provide research support for our most talented young scientists at a crucial phase in their career while enabling them to address riskier, more difficult research problems than they might otherwise be able to do.”

To date, YFA has provided funding nationwide to 168 recipients. DARPA uses the program to help identify outstanding junior faculty members and expose them to the DoD, its needs and DARPA’s program development process.  It combines funding, mentoring and networking early in faculty careers to help frame future research in the context of national defense.

For more information, visit: www.grants.gov/search/search.do?oppId=132953&mode=VIEW

More than $300 billion worth of satellites are estimated to be in the geosynchronous orbit (GEO—22,000 miles above the earth). Many of these satellites have been retired due to normal end of useful life, obsolescence or failure; yet many still have valuable components, such as antennas, that could last much longer than the life of the satellite. When satellites in GEO “retire,” they are put into a GEO disposal or “graveyard” orbit. That graveyard potentially holds tens to more than a hundred retired satellites that have components that could be repurposed – with the willing knowledge and sanction of the satellite’s owner. Today, DoD deploys new, replacement satellites at high cost—one of the primary drivers of the high cost is the launch costs, which is dependent on the weight and volume of antennas. The repurposing of existing, retired antennas from the graveyard represents a potential for significant cost savings.

DARPA’s Phoenix program seeks to develop technologies to cooperatively harvest and re-use valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites in GEO and demonstrate the ability to create new space systems at greatly reduced cost. “If this program is successful, space debris becomes space resource,” said DARPA Director, Regina E. Dugan.

This concept will require diverse expertise from the international and nontraditional space communities. For example, today’s ground-based robotics systems allow surgeons to perform telesurgery on a patient thousands of miles away, and advanced remote imaging systems used for offshore drilling view the ocean floor thousands of feet underwater. These types of capabilities, if re-engineered for zero gravity, high-vacuum and harsh radiation, could be used in space to allow the repurposing of valuable antennas from retired GEO satellites.

“Satellites in GEO are not designed to be disassembled or repaired, so it’s not a matter of simply removing some nuts and bolts,” said David Barnhart, DARPA program manager. “This requires new remote imaging and robotics technology and special tools to grip, cut, and modify complex systems, since existing joints are usually molded or welded. Another challenge is developing new remote operating procedures to hold two parts together so a third robotic ‘hand’ can join them with a third part, such as a fastener, all in zero gravity. For a person operating such robotics, the complexity is similar to trying to assemble via remote control multiple Legos at the same time while looking through a telescope.”

To optimally use those repurposed assets, the Phoenix program will develop low-cost, scalable electronics and structural modules that would allow localized control and communication with each other and a master satellite, ala DARPA’s System F6, that together harnesses the repurposed antennas. Phoenix specifically seeks technologies for developing a new class of small “satlets,” or nanosatellites, which can be sent more economically to the GEO region through existing ride-along services with commercial satellite launches and then robotically attached to the antenna of a nonfunctional cooperating satellite to essentially create a new space system. The nanosatellites may leverage the technologies, infrastructure, protocols and architecture developed within the ongoing System F6 program.

Technical expertise is sought to design a payload orbital delivery system, or PODS, to safely house the satlets when they are launched aboard a commercial satellite.

A separate on-orbit “tender,” or satellite servicing station, is planned to be launched into GEO. Once the tender arrives on-orbit, the PODS would be released from its ride-along host and linked with the tender to become part of the satellite servicing station’s “tool belt.” The tender plans to be equipped with grasping mechanical arms and remote vision systems to remove components and satlets from the PODS using unique space tools to be developed in the program.

Critical to the success of the Phoenix program is active participation from both U.S. and international communities involved in vital technical areas such as:

• Radiation tolerant microelectronics and memory storage
• Distributed wireless mobile platform solutions for ad hoc connectivity and control
• Industrial electronic control systems
• Terrestrial microminiature guidance and control measurement units
• Industrial robotics end effectors and tool changeout mechanisms and techniques
• Computer-assisted medical robotics microsurgical telepresence, tools and imaging
• Remote underwater imaging/vision technologies used in the offshore oil and gas drilling industry
• Terrestrial manufacturing of high volume microelectronics and computer data storage
• Terrestrial thermal management design technology of electronic devices and systems
• Low-cost industrial manufacturing of high-volume sheet metal and other structural materials
• Additive manufacturing on various structural materials

DARPA will host two upcoming industry days in November 2011 for interested performers. For more information, visit: https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=9abdaf84993c93e3ad7a8090fdaab557&tab=core&_cview=1

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