The US military spends a good deal of money and energy on delivery systems - capabilities that allow US forces to move assets to where they are needed around the globe as quickly as possible. But for the Navy, whose area of operation is the entirety of the world's oceans, DARPA is taking a different tack. Rather than trying to truck assets to where they need to be during a crisis, why not just plant them on the seafloor and activate them when you need them?
DARPA solicitation days are like Christmas morning for technology nerds, occasions whose bounty defense tech geeks look forward to precisely because we have no idea what we are going to get. And in case you thought DARPA might scale back its far-out R&D ambitions in light of impending defense budget cuts, be advised: the DoD's blue-sky researchers fear no fiscal cliff (in fact, it has likely already developed a self-assembling hypersonic vehicle that will automatically scramjet the agency to safety should any cliff, fiscal or otherwise, be autonomously detected). So what does DARPA want in 2013? Read on.
Warfighters have a whole suite of cameras they can use to see in the dark, through fog or smoke, and in broad daylight - but that's actually a problem, according to DARPA. Nobody wants to carry a suite of things. It would be better to have just one item that can do everything your suite could do.
We've written about a few soft robotic tentacles here before, but researchers from Harvard working with the Department of Energy and DARPA have come up with one that they claim is sensitive and nuanced enough to grip and manipulate a flower without breaking it. Their work is detailed in the latest issue of the journal Advanced Materials.
DARPA's Tactically Expandable Maritime Platform (TEMP) program is a wide-ranging effort to pack standard ISO shipping containers with technologies that can assist during humanitarian disasters or aid military in solving other unconventional, international problems (like piracy). Essentially DARPA wants a modular means to quickly turn any ship into a technology-laden base of operations that can quickly execute ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore operations. We've seen the ship-based portion of this before. We're now seeing the ship-to-shore piece. Meet CAAT (for Captive Air Amphibious Transporter). The prototype vehicle is basically like a tank with treads made out of air-filled pontoons, enabling it to roll over water (and obstacles in the water) with Abrams-like efficiency and continue its forward march once it hits shore. Perhaps the coolest thing about the video below: this is a 1/5 scale demonstrator.
The future of military robotics isn't all heavy metal and humanoid soldier-bots. If DARPA's newest warbot implement is any indication, the future is soft, lightweight, and inflatable. The Pentagon's blue-sky research wing is about to award $625,000 to iRobot to develop an inflatable robotic arm that can lift four times its own weight.
When DARPA launched its Transformer (TX) program back in early 2010, PopSci responded as most media did by applauding the ambition while simultaneously harboring serious skepticism. In essence the DoD was asking for a flying car, a "1- to 4-person transportation vehicle that can drive and fly," capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), for troops looking to avoid rough terrain and IEDs. The very idea simply feels impossible - at least until you have a sober conversation with the guy building it.