The shadowy group first funded during the Eisenhower presidency that try’s to kill goats by staring and recently offered hobbyists a financial incentive to weaponize everyday items in the house took to tents in the Pentagon courtyard today to ply its out-of-the box weaponry and tools for the Department of Department.
DARPA’s open house brought many visitors
At the risk of understatement, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is not like other branches of the military, but they do like to play with the military and keep its interest. According to an official statement the agency, DARPA was planning on showing the various departments of the military and others its work on over 60 projects in areas including air systems, biology, counterterrorism, cyber, ground warfare, maritime systems, microsystems, space and the electromagnetic spectrum.
In addition to DARPA Director Dr. Arati Prabhakar, Stephen P. Welby, assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering was also in attendance.
Welby recently told the DoD News that “DARPA really is the disruption engine behind our technology enterprise in the department,” and that the agency was “working on cutting-edge technologies that are going to fundamentally shape our future, and working to bring that future into today.”
Welby explained that the scientists and engineers that work for DARPA are not doing it for the money nor to gain tenure but were committed to the safety of the United States both at home and abroad in remarks today.
“They’re harnessing new materials, advances in computer science, the cutting edge of synthetic biology,” Welby said, “but they’re doing it not with an eye toward … advancing their academic careers. They’re thinking about how they can couple that to systems that will matter to the warfighter. That’s what’s really great about DARPA,” said Welby he once worked there himself.
“The projects have a distinct start and a distinct finish, and DARPA recruits most of its staff as temporary-term appointments. These folks come in with three or four years to change the world, to make a difference, and under that intense pressure, under that clock, that’s the secret weapon to moving the future in,” Welby said.
Oh to be a fly on the wall, or simply under the tents
Suffice is to say that there were no shortage of drooling tech and science reporters that would have loved to be in attendance in addition to numerous “cultural attaches” or other titles given to foreign spies that would give their left eyes for a glimpse under those tents.
“Today is the day that we bring some of those crazy technologies into the Pentagon [to] get them in front of our customers and our partners — people across all the military services and across DoD and the intelligence community,” said DARPA Director Dr. Arati Prabhakar.
DARPA cares about driving the military forward and that’s what DARPA Demo Day is all about, “but it doesn’t really count until we get it across the finish line, and that’s what today is really all about.”
“Sometimes … we’re driving a brand new frontier, and then those technologies end up getting commercialized. Sometimes that’s a very important part of getting the impact we need out of our technologies,” she explained.
DARPA is, by nature, quite secretive but occasionally speaks openly about programs that at least on the surface don’t have military applications.
One such program is something that the agency is working on to deliver millions of doses of vaccines using plant-based advances in biology with its Microphysiological Systems program (MPS).
MPS “is building cell cultures that emulate human organs, and they give us a platform that would allow us to test suspicious threat agents when we don’t want to test them on people,” she said. “It gives us a safe way to get much more realistic testing.”
DARPA isn’t afraid of working with the public
DARPA is a unique agency as it’s not afraid to recognize and admit that it benefits from people outside of its agency. The aforementioned financial reward program that the agency recently began to ask private citizen’s to essentially weaponize household items and show them to DARPA scientists is just one example.
Prior to the DEFCON 24 Hacking Conference which will be held in Las Vegas at the end of the summer, the agency is hosting its DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge which is open to both individuals, companies and higher learning institutions in order to help the agency with its efforts in cybersecurity.
“We have created ‘a league of their own’ for machines to conduct cyber defense operations. It’s going to be the first time ever that teams are going to compete by turning their machines on and letting them fight it out in a capture-the-flag game just for machines to play,” Prabhakar said.
“Participants in that competition include a lot of universities but also a couple of small companies,” she continued. “One has posted on its website that it plans to make commercially available all the things it’s developing through the Cyber Grand Challenge.”