Arlington, VA, United States
Arlington, VA, United States

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military. DARPA has been responsible for funding the development of many technologies which have had a major effect on the world, including computer networking, as well as NLS, which was both the first hypertext system, and an important precursor to the contemporary ubiquitous graphical user interface.DARPA began as the Advanced Research Projects Agency created in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the purpose of forming and executing research and development projects to expand the frontiers of technology and science and able to reach far beyond immediate military requirements. The administration was responding to the Soviet launching of Sputnik 1 in 1957, and DARPA's mission was to ensure U.S. military technology be more sophisticated than that of the nation's potential enemies. From DARPA's own introduction:DARPA’s original mission, established in 1958, was to prevent technological surprise like the launch of Sputnik, which signaled that the Soviets had beaten the U.S. into space. The mission statement has evolved over time. Today, DARPA’s mission is still to prevent technological surprise to the US, but also to create technological surprise for our enemies.ARPA was renamed to "DARPA" in March 1972, then renamed "ARPA" in February 1993, and then renamed "DARPA" again in March 1996.DARPA is independent from other more conventional military research and development and reports directly to senior Department of Defense management. DARPA has around 240 personnel directly managing a $3 billion budget. These figures are "on average" since DARPA focuses on short-term projects run by small, purpose-built teams. Wikipedia.


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News Article | July 26, 2017
Site: www.nature.com

The JASONs, a group of elite scientists that advises the US government on national security, has weighed in on issues ranging from cyber security to renewing America’s nuclear arsenal. But at a meeting in June, the secretive group took stock of a new threat: gene drives, a genetic-engineering technology that can swiftly spread modifications through entire populations and could help vanquish malaria-spreading mosquitoes. That meeting forms part of a broader US national security effort this year to grapple with the possible risks and benefits of a technology that could drive species extinct and alter whole ecosystems. On 19 July, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced US$65 million in funding to scientists studying gene-editing technologies; most of the money will be for work on gene drives. And a US intelligence counterpart to DARPA is planning to fund research into detecting organisms containing gene drives and other modifications. “Every powerful technology is a national security issue,” says Kevin Esvelt, an evolutionary engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who won DARPA funding to limit the spread of gene drives. Esvelt says he also attended last month’s JASON meeting in San Diego, California, where he outlined how would-be bioterrorists might weaponize gene drives. But he is far more concerned about the potential for accidental release of gene-drive organisms by scientists, he says. “Bio-error is what I’m worried about.” So, too, is the US military, according to Renee Wegrzyn, the DARPA programme officer leading its ‘Safe Genes’ initiative, which supports research on restraining gene drives. The technology has been developed in recent years in fruit flies, mosquitoes and other organisms, using CRISPR gene editing. A UK-based team hopes to begin field tests of gene drives in Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, the main carrier of malaria in Africa, as soon as 2024. “I’ve been very excited to watch the advances, but I’ve noted with increasing concern that the advances are outpacing biosecurity,” Wegrzyn says. The JASONs' gene-drive discussion involved around 20 scientists, according to Philipp Messer, a population geneticist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who attended the meeting. (As a German citizen, he was identified as a foreign national and accompanied by an escort.) “I’m not used to that kind of conference,” says Messer, who says he told the group about his lab’s efforts to study the evolution of resistance to CRISPR gene drives in fruit flies. “We just had open discussions about this technology and what we think the current state of the field was and what we think the problems are.” Gerald Joyce, a biochemist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, and a JASON member who Messer says co-organized the meeting, declined to comment on the meeting, which is likely to lead to a classified report. Under the DARPA programme, seven teams won four-year contracts. Esvelt plans to develop CRISPR gene drives in nematode worms — a fast-reproducing model organism — that are designed to spread a genetic modification in a local setting and then fizzle out, a concept that other scientists are pursuing. He and the other teams receiving military funding also plan to develop tools to counter rogue gene drives that spread out of control. Such methods include chemicals that block gene-editing or ‘anti-gene drives’ that can reverse a genetic modification or immunize unaltered wild organisms so they are resistant to a gene drive. These tools could combat a gene drive deployed to do harm, such as those that engineer insects to transmit diseases more effectively or deliver toxins. But such countermeasures are far more likely to be deployed against accidental gene-drive releases from research labs, says Esvelt. Lax or non-existent biosafety guidelines for working on gene-drive organisms increase the odds of a release, he says. Other efforts are afoot to fund work studying the national security implications of gene drives. Next week, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA), which is part of the Office of the US Director of National Intelligence, will hold a meeting about a planned funding programme for detecting genetically modified organisms that are potentially harmful, including ones that contain gene drives. Todd Kuiken, who studies policy relating to synthetic biology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, is glad to see gene-drive research receive more funding. But he has qualms about the US military’s interest in the field; with Safe Genes, DARPA has become the world’s largest government funder of gene-drive research. Kuiken worries that this could sow suspicions about gene drives in parts of the world that view the US military in a less-than-favourable light, including countries that stand to benefit from the elimination of disease carriers such as mosquitoes. Esvelt shares those concerns but sees military support as the only way, for the time being, to advance gene-drive technology, while making it safer for eventual deployment. Private funders such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in Seattle, Washington, and the Tata Trusts, a Mumbai-based charity, have spent tens of millions on gene-drive research, but this funding has been directed to specific projects or institutions; other government funders have not yet made large contributions to the field. “No one else is offering us large amounts of money,” Esvelt says. The DARPA programme explicitly prevents the release of gene-drive organisms and requires contract winners to work under stringent biosafety conditions and to disclose their planned experiments to the public — measures that should reduce the risk of any accidental release, Esvelt adds. “If what you’re worried about is your cowboys running amok and causing trouble, then what you really want to do is employ the cowboys to make sure they stay out of trouble.”


News Article | November 10, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

A scientific team led by the University of Pennsylvania has received an award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop and validate reproducible methods for studying human social behavior. DARPA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense that invests in breakthrough technologies to support national security. The award is part of DARPA's new Next Generation Social Science program, or NGS2, which aims to revolutionize the speed, scale and rigor with which social science is performed. The grant provides the Penn-led, multi-disciplinary team with $2.95 million for two years, with a possible additional $2.3 million for a subsequent one-and-a-half years, dependent on progress, to further the goals of the NGS2 program, a key one being to develop a deeper understanding of the factors that drive the emergence or collapse of collective identity in human populations. Joshua B. Plotkin, a professor in the Schools of Arts & Sciences' Department of Biology, with secondary appointments in the Department of Mathematics and the School of Engineering and Applied Science's Computer and Information Science Department, will lead the project. His colleagues in the effort are Erol Akçay, an assistant professor of biology at Penn; David Rand of Yale University; Simon Levin of Princeton University; Johan Bollen of Indiana University; and Alexander Stewart of University College London. "Many global trends, including conflicts among non-state groups and the growing influence of social media, point to the importance of social science for understanding the drivers of social and national stability," Plotkin said. "We are excited about developing and applying cutting-edge science and technology to help social science become an even more predictive field and, in particular, to better understand the phenomenon of collective identity." NGS2 also serves as a response to the so-called "reproducibility crisis" in the sciences, and the social sciences in particular, in which published findings have failed to be corroborated by follow-up studies. The program's interest in applying rigorous methods to the social sciences aligns with a strategic strength of Penn Arts & Sciences, an emphasis on quantitative explorations of evolving systems. The proposal by Plotkin and colleagues will encompass three scales of methods development and experimentation. On one level, the team will use game theory and evolutionary modeling to predict what factors govern group behaviors such as cooperation. The researchers will also put game theory into action, recruiting participants to play in-lab and online games in order to test model predictions for what conditions encourage a group to act as a cohesive whole. Finally, the research team will take advantage of massive datasets from such sources as Twitter to identify how social norms and collective identities arise and change over time in the real world. "Our project is ambitious because it spans from mechanistic mathematical models to online experiments to observational studies of unfiltered social interactions," Plotkin said. "We have assembled a group of researchers, drawn from a wide range of disciplines who all share a desire to help develop quantitative methods in the social sciences." Because the research involves studies on human subjects, it will be subject to IRB and human research protection offices' review. Study subjects will be informed, consenting volunteers, and data will be de-identified to protect their privacy. The DARPA award is structured with reproducibility built in: Each of the DARPA funded teams, after developing and testing its own models and hypotheses in the first phase of the project, will then cross-validate each other's predictions in a second phase using their own study subjects. In addition, applying a relatively new practice in the social sciences, the researchers will pre-register all of their experimental plans in advance of performing them. This process, which requires laying out their hypotheses, protocols and planned analytical techniques, will help ensure proper, unbiased interpretation of results. "This DARPA program will hopefully usher in a new research cycle of mechanistic modelling and hypothesis testing to make a predictive science of social phenomena," Plotkin said.


Saleh A.,Darpa | Simmons J.,Monarch Network Architects
IEEE Communications Magazine | Year: 2011

At current growth rates, Internet traffic will increase by a factor of one thousand in roughly 20 years. It will be challenging for transmission and routing/switching systems to keep pace with this level of growth without requiring prohibitively large increases in network cost and power consumption. We present a high-level vision for addressing these challenges based on both technological and architectural advancements. © 2006 IEEE.


Boston Dynamics has already developed a robot that can maintain its balance in uneven terrain involving a four-legged robot called BigDog. Now, the company through a third-party technology has just achieved the same feat but this time it involves a humanoid robot. The new development is attributed to an algorithm developed by the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition Robotics Lab in Florida, which allows humanoid robots advanced control techniques in order to maintain balance. The robotic project is part of the IHMC's entry to the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a competition seeking to advance robotics in the area of disaster response. The technology has enabled the bipedal robot called Atlas to balance itself not just on an uneven surface but on one that is constituted by different shapes and sizes . "While great strides have recently been made in robotics, robots still cannot get to the same places that people can," the IHMC said. "Our humanoid projects are focused on enabling our bipedal humanoids handle rough terrain without requiring onboard sensors to build a model of the terrain." The researchers addressed the challenge of bipedal walking by having the robot explore the surface first. "After a step is taken, the robot explores the new contact surface by attempting to shift the center of pressure around the foot," the researchers stated in a published paper detailing the walking technique. "The available foothold is inferred by the way in which the foot rotates about contact edges and/or by the achieved center of pressure locations on the foot during exploration." The video below demonstrates how the robot walks and balances itself atop cinder blocks. It initially looks easy but the efficacy and even grace by which Atlas navigates the surface is astounding given two factors. First, the robot weighs 330 pounds, so that act of balancing itself via the workings of gears and bolts on its joints and the effect of gravity on such weight makes the feat quite impressive, indeed. Second, there is the fact that the robot has no prior knowledge of the surface. It is effectively navigating the path for the first time and it was achieved without toppling over. The DARPA competition that the IHMC is participating in does not require the robot to be humanoid as long as it will be compatible with human operators and useful in disaster relief operations. IHMC researchers, however, decided to use Atlas because his human-like form is best suited for environments built for humans. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


Building on a long history of innovation in neural-recording interfaces, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched a program to address the key challenges related to transitioning advanced neuroprosthesis technology to clinical use for amputated service members. The goal of the Reliable Neural Technology (RE-NET) Program is to develop new technology to extract information from the nervous system at a scale and rate needed to reliably control modern robotic prostheses over the lifetime of the amputee. The RE-NET program currently encompasses three separate efforts: histology for interface stability over time (HIST), reliable peripheral interfaces (RPIs), and reliable central nervous system (CNS) interfaces (RCIs). © 2012 IEEE.


Remember ATLAS? That massive walking robot that DARPA is building with (the now Google-owned) Boston Dynamics? Last time we saw it, it had two major flaws that made it ever-so-slightly less intimidating: it was loud as hell, and it needed a big, thick support cable to keep it powered and upright. Both of those issues have been fixed. DARPA released a video today demonstrating the latest version of ATLAS, and it’s a doozy. DARPA says about 75% of the bot has been redesigned, with only the stuff below the knees staying the same. Whereas the previous generation ATLAS got its power through an unsightly cable tether (thus greatly limiting its range), the robot now carries its own power source on its back. It can operate for about an hour before its self-contained battery is drained. While the ATLAS in the video above is still held up by a support rope, it’s only for the safety of its operators — and not in the “Oh god, evil robot on the loose!” sense. Coming in at roughly 350 pounds of metal and sharp corners and still just learning to walk, it’s not exactly something you want to come crashing down on your head. Meanwhile, the new ATLAS is considerably quieter than the generations prior. Just a year ago, working next to ATLAS meant wearing ear plugs — now, thanks to a new pressure pump design, the noise is more annoying than it is deafening. Beyond that, a bunch of small tweaks bring ATLAS a few steps closer to something out of John Connor’s nightmares: the arms have been repositioned to increase their range, new actuators in the arms and legs make it stronger than ever, and a wireless emergency stop allows the operator to instantly pull the plug when things go awry (that is until the robot goes sentient, rips out its own killswitch, and busts through the wall to freedom, of course.) Oh, and thanks to the new-found ability to rotate at the wrist, ATLAS can open door knobs — so if your plan to survive the Robocalypse involved hiding in a broom closet, it might be time to come up with a new one. For reference, here’s where ATLAS was at the end of 2013: Now it does all that… but without the wires.


News Article | February 17, 2015
Site: techcrunch.com

Symbolically, the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection was about the White House reaching out to Silicon Valley and the need for collaboration between government, and the manufacturing, finance, and technology industries. Substantively, the President signed an Executive Order to encourage the sharing of cyber threat information. Government outreach efforts often talk about collaboration and working together but usually in a vague, aspirational, kumbaya kind of way. However, for cybersecurity the need for collaboration is pragmatic and pressing. The ubiquity and power of information technology means that the biggest security risks exist at the intersection of disciplines and communities. Collaboration is the only way to mitigate these risks. An intersectional perspective allows us to better understand why certain cyber attacks occur and are so damaging. The recent attacks on Sony have accelerated the Obama administration’s efforts on cybersecurity. But why was the Sony attack such an unmitigated disaster for the moviemaker? The damage occurred at the intersection of the actions of a sophisticated hacking group (or ‘advanced persistent threat’); poor cybersecurity practices by Sony; the leaking of damaging private corporate data; the use of terrorist threats to block the release of “The Interview” and the incompetent responses from Sony (including canceling then digitally releasing the movie, threats to sue Twitter and an alleged denial of service attack on servers hosting Sony’s leaked data). While this was definitely a cyber attack, it was also an international relations incident, a state sponsored terrorist attack on freedom of expression, and an example of Hollywood being ridiculous. The attack and its fallout could absolutely have been mitigated if Sony had a better IT department. But Sony would also have benefited from better leadership, a less toxic corporate culture and a crisis management team with the ability to call on government support. Other factors beyond Sony’s control also played a critical role in this attack including, a poor relationship between the United States and China on cybersecurity, a lack of international protocols for dealing with cyberattacks and limited means for the United States to impose further political costs on North Korea. Sony was on the receiving end of a sophisticated attack but simple attacks can also have outsized impact when they occur at the right set of intersections. The so-called Cyber Caliphate’s ‘cyber attack’ on CENTCOM’s twitter account was not technically impressive but it took advantage of other factors. The attack occurred against the backdrop of ISIS’ social media savvy savagery, not just sharing graphic images but building Twitter apps and calling for the assassination of Twitter employees. This combined with the fact that many in the public don’t understand that military Twitter accounts are exactly the same as regular Twitter accounts and don’t have magical military security. If ISIS could strike back at the U.S. military on their home turf what would it mean for fighting on the ground? Including some publicly available ‘leaked’ documents briefly gave the impression that the Cyber Caliphate had more serious skills. And this all occurred at a time when many are wondering about what the United States is doing in Syria, Iraq and the Middle East more generally. Yes, CENTCOM could probably have avoided this embarrassment if it had used basic two-factor authentication on its Twitter account. But the attack would also have been less successful if the United States had a clearer strategy for defeating ISIS, if the public had a better understanding of Twitter security, or if the United States had not just left Iraq or was not still dealing with the aftermath of the Manning and Snowden leaks. The financial sector possesses some of the most sophisticated cyber defenses but despite their technical capabilities, Kaspersky Lab’s has just revealed that a cyber criminal group, dubbed Carbanak, has stolen up to $1 billion from as many as 100 financial institutions around the world over the past 2 years. These attacks show yet another set of intersections. When the technical sophistication and, often, strong security practices of banks are comprised by spear phishing delivered malware, significant manipulation of transactions can go undetected. Even when such attacks are noticed, banks are often unwilling to talk publicly or privately for fear of damaging customer confidence and their insurance premiums. Accepting the loss can be more cost effective in the short term but allows attackers to reuse their tactics again and again. Differing international laws, business competition and challenges of attribution make identifying the multi-national perpetrators extremely difficult, let alone capturing and prosecuting them. In most cases, the motive for attacks on financial institutions is economic. But it arises from technical opportunity and a huge return on investment with relatively low risk when undertaken internationally across nations that don’t agree on internet governance or law enforcement. 100 banks from across the globe can’t all have terrible cyber security practices, meaning that the answers have to be about more than technology. Technology experts already understand the importance of community and collaboration for cybersecurity. The hacker researcher community has a longstanding history and culture of online collaboration and real life conferences like DEF CON and Black Hat, DARPA ran the Cyber Fast Track program to collaborate with the hacker researcher community, Facebook has recently launched ThreatExchange, a social network for sharing threat information, and the White House has just announced the creation of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center to coordinate cyber related intelligence among federal agencies. Collaborating with colleagues within our various specializations will remain important. But if we want to develop long-term solutions that address our cyber insecurity we need to collaborate outside of our various communities more effectively. Assembling a team of experts with the necessary collective experience to address the particular combination of issues faced by Sony or CENTCOM or all of those banks would be time consuming, expensive and perhaps impossible. And substantially different teams would be required for each attack not to mention attacks on Target, Home Depot, the United States Postal Service, or Anthem health insurance. This is why the President’s focus on community, connection and collaboration is warranted. The threats of cyber insecurity are intersectional and transgressive, ignoring geographic, organizational, disciplinary and cultural borders. To be fair, good, early work has been done to bridge some of those gaps. The United States Government interagency community is far more tight knit and collaborative than other disciplines. Government agencies communicate regularly with major industries through Information Sharing and Analysis Centers and centers for collaboration like the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit and the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence have yielded early successes. But these efforts are not scaling as rapidly as cyber threats and still leave large issues unaddressed, most notably the huge gap between the government and leading technology developers on the issue of surveillance. The CEOs of Google, Facebook and Yahoo were notably absent from the White House summit on Friday. Creating intersectional understandings of cyber challenges is a critical first step toward creating communities that collaborate effectively to address the endemic risks of cyber insecurity. To do this effectively requires new thinking from diverse fields. Intersectionality is not a new concept. It comes from the critical race theory work of professor Kimberle W. Crenshaw. Professor Crenshaw identifies the issue of ‘single- axis’ analysis that separates problems of social injustice into distinct challenges facing specific groups, for example based on race, gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. Such analyses easily lead to conclusions that miss the bigger picture, creating divisive competition between issues and gaps that allow important problems to be overlooked. A single-axis analysis of the Sony attack might suggest that it was merely an issue of poor network security or the inevitable outcome of focused, state sponsored hacking. Cybersecurity and social justice are markedly different fields but the core insight of intersectionality holds true for both: we must move beyond discussions over whether a core issue is about Problem A or Problem B and instead understand the relationships among Problem A and Problem B and Problem C and other related problems. For cybersecurity, intersectionality can help us better understand the ways in which cyber challenges are not just technical but are simultaneously legal and governmental and cultural and economic and so on. As the President said in his Stanford speech, cybersecurity “is a shared mission.” In order to truly work in a shared manner we must develop smart new ways of thinking that inform the technical and non-technical aspects of cybersecurity. It is through intellectual and cultural efforts that we can harness the existing creativity and capabilities of disparate experts to make Presidential speeches and executive orders actually mean something. Editor’s Note: Ben FitzGerald is the Director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security where he explores the intersection of strategy, technology and business.


20n, one of a wave of biotech-related startups that Y Combinator is starting to fund, is the brainchild of a UC Berkeley professor and a post-doc. Saurabh Srivastava and J. Christopher Anderson have worked together for several years developing software that can design genetically engineered microbes to make specific chemicals. While at their DARPA-backed lab at UC Berkeley, they created bacteria that could produce acetaminophen or Tylenol. Their special sauce is their software platform. While there are companies that license ways to create bacteria that produce specialty chemicals, the process of identifying how to create these microbes is tedious. 20n says its data-mining technology can get to 100 times more chemicals than were previously thought possible. (A visual map of these possibilities is laid out in the picture at the right.) Companies will tell 20n what molecules they want to make, and 20n’s software will design a microbe that can do it. They have to be organic compounds, however. With the specialty chemical industry being worth $980 billion, licenses for these microbes can start in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. 20n already has several contracts in negotiation. “Even the most boring chemicals still tend to be billion dollar markets,” Srivastava said. They named the company 20n because 20 is the number of standard amino acids specified by the universal genetic code. Proteins are made of sequences that are typically 300 to 500 amino acids long. 20n is the set of combinations the company gets to play with. Srivastava earned his Ph.D. in computer science, while Anderson is a tenured UC Berkeley professor who has worked in synthetic biology for 17 years. In their years of working together, their different backgrounds led to some funny miscommunications. For instance, API means “application program interface” to a programmer and “advanced pharmaceutical intermediate” to a biochemist. “We had to figure out a language to work in that both a biologist and computer scientist could understand,” Anderson said.


Ginkgo Bioworks, the Boston-based startup working with DARPA and others on wild science projects involving bio-organisms, has just raised $9 Million in Series A Financing from Felicis Ventures, OS Fund, Data Collective, iGlobe Partners and Vast Ventures. Ginkgo Bioworks specializes in engineering microbes to produce cultured ingredients, such as flavors, fragrances, cosmetics, and sweeteners. Silicon Valley investors first took note of the company after it became the first biotech startup to go through Y Combinator in last year’s summer class. But DARPA and other research agencies had already committed to about $15 million in contract work before that. This raise is more of a strategic play for Ginkgo, according to co-founder Jason Kelly. The company was founded in 2008, but it has started making connections within the tech community since launching out of YC. “We had a huge amount of interest coming out of YC from the tech community. It helped position us as an enterprise software investment rather than just pharmacy research,” he told TechCrunch over the phone. Ginkgo will use part of the funds to continue building out a new 18,000-square-foot facility, Bioworks1. This is a research lab built with 20 robots controlled by specialty software that helps the startup conduct experiments like turning yeast into rose fragrance. Customers order the research and development and then split the royalties with Ginkgo once it goes into production. Some of the new funding will also help further research before the products go to market. It will also go toward hiring more software developers and salespeople as well as help with construction on the beginnings of Bioworks2, an updated lab with next generation robotics designed to help the startup do more, faster and for less money. Ginkgo is part of a major shift in the biotech industry. The combination of a number of improved technologies including robots, software and other enhancements has allowed this industry to prototype faster on vastly smaller budgets than ever before. “Biology is one of the most critical technologies of the coming decades and will revolutionize multiple industries from healthcare to energy,” Founder of OS Fund Bryan Johnson said in a statement about the investment.


News Article | April 3, 2015
Site: gizmodo.com

If you’re a soldier doing reconnaissance in enemy territory, you’ve got a lot of problems. Taking fire, staying invisible, and enduring the elements are obvious. Battery life is a little less so. The idea that propane is a solution to these woes? That sounds crazy. And yet, battery life remains an increasingly cumbersome struggle that the military faces. As American soldiers become increasingly reliant on technology, they demand more power sources. One dependable option is the standard Ultralife UBI-2590 battery, pictured below. Weighing over three pounds a piece, these brick-sized devices can power anything from a radio to an antenna to a smartphone. But since the batteries have a limited capacity, soldiers need more than just one for a mission. They might need a few dozen. After all, there aren’t many wall outlets for recharging in the mountains of Afghanistan. Enter DARPA. With the support of DARPA’s Trans App program, a team of engineers from Ultra Electronics built a lightweight, 350-watt propane generator that’s capable of charging in batteries in the field. It’s also practically silent. At a recent DARPA demo day the team showed me the invention, which isn’t much bigger than a duffel bag. I had to ask if it was running. (It was.) At first, a propane-powered generator might not seem like such a game-changing innovation. But consider our recon soldiers camped out in far flung locations, transmitting potentially life-saving intelligence while struggling to evade detection. Once they’re out of battery power, the soldiers can’t do their job. Firing up a gasoline-powered generator would give away their position, and dropping more batteries into the area risks lives. So these soldiers lug in as many charged batteries as they think they’ll need—sometimes adding nearly a hundred pounds to their already heavy load of gear. Propane is not nearly as heavy as lithium ion battery cells. Thanks to the impossibly quiet new DARPA-funded generator, soldiers can carry in a few batteries and recharge them on the fly. To give you an idea of how much weight this new invention can save, check out the illustration below. On the left are 100 UBI-2590 batteries. On the right is the equivalent amount of gear a soldier would need to generate the same amount of power on a mission: Bear in mind the simple, brutal fact that each of those 100 batteries weighs over three pounds. The propane generator weighs just 11 pounds, and the tank weighs an extra 20. Smaller four-pound tanks work just as well. Effectively, DARPA wants to replace dozens of pounds of gear in a soldier’s pack with just a few pounds of propane. It sounds like an ambitious but simple goal, one that could save lives. Now if they could juuuuuuuuust figure out how to turn fatigues into a giant solar cell, nobody would have to carry any power sources at all.

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