The defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) gets a ton of funding to develop the science and technological future of the military.This is the agency responsible for GPS, the internet and stealth planes. They’re the real deal.
We looked at their active projects to find the ones that might have massive civilian implications if they eventually produce real-world tech.
For this round, we focused on only their defence Science Office and their Information Innovation Office, two of six DARPA branches.
The Active Authentication project seeks to render overly-complex internet login info obsolete.
As it stands, the difficult-to-remember passwords are easy to beat if you can find them, and offer no protection if the service is just left running.
DARPA is looking into having biometric validation with a key point; They want to be able to authenticate users without any additional hardware needed, so there's no need fo an iris scanner on every iPad.
The tech plays off of how each person uses the computer differently. It validates access based on how each individual user handles a mouse, types, makes contact with a touchpad and more. It's immensely intuitive tech.
The military contends with traumatic injury each and every day. One of the most difficult injuries to treat is a compound bone fracture which require long healing and rehabilitation times.
Amputations are far too common. The screws and plates and rods necessary to successfully treat the beaks can lead to further complications.
DARPA wants to make the way the military handles compound fractures far less medieval and far more space age. They're developing Fracture Putty which can be packed in and around a compound bone fracture and provide load bearing abilities in days.
The putty would be bone-like during the healing process but would gradually degrade as the normal bone heals.
The most transfused blood product is red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. When soldiers are wounded, one of the most important things to accomplish medically is to bring the red blood cell count back to survivable levels.
Unfortunately, the difficulties of transporting all of that blood and keeping the supply up is a major challenge for the military -- not to mention civilian -- medical system.
DARPA's Blood Pharming program seeks to develop novel technologies to enable production of red blood cells that are ready to go on the spot.
The end goal is to use human cells to make an automated, mass produced blood machine of universal donor type cells.
The Broad Operational Language Translation (BOLT) program looks to design a way for troops to understand what foreign civilians are saying in real time.
Later steps of the program could involve the active translation of English speech into the listener's language. DARPA wants to see BOLT eventually come to enable fluid conversation between people who don't know a word of one another's language.
The civilian implications are huge here. An international business community interacting in real time without translators would change the way societies interact.
DARPA's Deep Exploration and Filtering of Text (DEFT) program could be a crucial step for automation.
This program is still in planning phases, but it already looks like it could be huge. DARPA wants a program that can not only read and enact but also infer commands.
This is the sort of thing that could prove the missing link between SIRI and HAL when it comes to computers understanding what humans are trying to say.
As it stands, transcription software is rather buggy. While the technology has progressed in leaps and bounds, the automatic transcription of speakers with ambient noise or music in the background is still immensely difficult.
DARPA wants to change that with the Robust Automatic Transcription of Speech (RATS) program.
The goals are ambitions. They want to develop a program with speaker identification, language identification, and the ability to detect speech even with ambient and disruptive noise.
As for potential civilian implications, a perfect transcription software would save countless hours of manual transcription for government agencies, media groups, and legal proceedings.
The military uses carbon fibre on rocket motors, aircraft wings, and missile technology. This technology has hit a plateau, remaining largely the same since its invention in the 1980s.
DARPA's Advanced Structural fibre program seeks to change that. The goal is to develop and produce a fibre with a 50% increase in strength and stiffness. DARPA is looking at the atomic level in this projects.
This would mean lighter and more effective planes and missiles, and could have a huge impact on the commercial fields of aerospace and manufacturing.
Blood doesn't last forever after donation. Much like milk, refrigeration ensures that it can last for a while, but at some point the blood goes bad and becomes unusable.
DARPA's Long Term Storage of Blood Products effort wants to extend the shelf-life of blood long beyond where it is today. Already, they've learned that freeze-dried platelets last two years, even at room temperature.
This would be another way for the blood supply to remain less-at-risk for exhaustion and shortages, guaranteeing medical care even in times of scarcity.
DARPA sees that the military has a problem where soldiers are inundated with information that is loaded with jargon and abbreviations that not every war fighter can understand at face value.
That's where the Machine Reading program comes in. DARPA wants to make software that can read in the complex and jargon-heavy reports that soldiers read now, and export information that laymen can understand.
The civilian applications of this are immense. The military is certainly not the only field with a jargon-problem. The legal, medical and engineering applications alone could be huge.
DARPA is worried about how few people go into Science, Technology, Engineering and maths (STEM) fields in higher education. They think the problem is that very young students aren't prepared to enjoy and study the hard sciences.
They're right now working on the ENGAGE program to inspire the next generation of scientists to get to work.
The crux is interactive game-based tech for pre-K to third grade students which will develop STEM skills early on.
The Department of defence is understandably in love with titanium. It's high strength, corrosion resistant, and has exceptional ballistic characteristics.
The dealbreaker remains the steep price tag.
DARPA has set out to find a way to make titanium cheap and accessible. By changing the way that the metal is mined and extracted, DARPA wants to get the price of titanium down to $4 per pound.
What would result in the civilian sphere is nothing short of revolutionary. Titanium production would skyrocket, and durable titanium products would enter the market.
DARPA's C3G program is figuring out a crucial step in the process to make plant matter into biofuels on a massive scale.
Essentially, the cellulose in plants is too difficult to break down into simple sugars at this point in time. It's molecularly crystalline, and if it could be dissolved it would be much easier to take vegetable matter and make it into power.
The program focuses on two bacteria that are particularly good at dissolving cellulose, and DARPA is trying to identify the specific chemical that they secrete that does the job.
The military has to train and educate recruits in a very small window of time, often imparting life-or-death information to soldiers who already have to learn so much.
Now, DARPA's Accelerated Learning program seeks to optimise how the military teaches its troops by studying how the brain works and how to manipulate minds into learning more efficiently.
The neuroscience approach hopes to produce a twofold increase in the speed of a person's task-based learning.
Anything DARPA figures out regarding streamlined education will doubtless have lasting effects on the standard education system.
A very small per cent of the world's water supply is drinkable freshwater, and that poses problems for a military which often must go to the far corners of the earth.
DARPA plans to fix that with its Materials with Novel Transport Properties (MANTRA) program, with the end goal of developing a portable desalination system with 99% efficiency rate.
The hope is that the highly portable desalinators will enable troops to use seawater where there isn't any freshwater without needing to haul around the current cumbersome desalinators.
As for civilian applications, enough of the world is without a usable water supply that any breakthroughs in this field will make an incredible difference in standard of living for a huge portion of the human race.
DARPA is at work trying to cure the H1N1 virus outbreak through a number of different avenues. This is called the 'Blue Angel' program.
The Predicting Health and Disease aspect has already developed a way to find out who will and will not become sick after virus exposure based on a blood test.
The Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals (AMP) program is trying to find a way to roll out a suite of pharmaceuticals in a matter of three months to respond to a new pharmaceutical test.
The military is treating the H1N1 virus as a threat to national security, and civilians will be a part of any response.
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