If you spent countless hours playing Metal Gear Solid in middle/high school, you know that DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is one shadowy and scary government agency. But as weird as the world of Snake was, truth can be stranger than fiction.
Immune to the usual avenues of governmental oversight, DARPA operates with a $2.8 billion annual budget. Even though it’s part of the Department of Defense, DARPA doesn’t have much of a traditional chain of command and the multitude of geniuses employed there are completely off the leash.
Here are some the latest hyper-advanced tech and military projects DARPA’s got going on. Realistically, it’s probably just the tip of the iceberg.
2. ALASA (Airborne Launch Assist Space Access)
Rockets are expensive and launching satellites into space so that you can watch DirecTV can get very costly. The goal of ALASA is to find a way to launch a 100-pound satellite into low earth orbit (LEO) for less than a million dollars. To do so, the launch rocket will hitch a ride on an Air Force fighter plane like the F-15.
Of course, DARPA isn’t really concerned about people watching Game of Thrones or finding places with their GPS. It turns out that the military and various government agencies are always jockeying for position at the few rocket launch sites across the country. If they can find a way to launch a satellite from any old runway, though, it would solve a whole bunch of problems for the Department of Defense.
4. ACTUV (Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vehicle)
During the Cold War, the problem of keeping track of Soviet submarines was enough to give the Secretaries of Defense and Navy night sweats. Since the end of the USSR, that threat has somewhat diminished, but that hasn’t stopped DARPA from trying to squash it entirely. ACTUV is intended to be an autonomous submarine-tracking vessel roaming the world’s oceans, looking for enemy subs, following them around, and reporting their positions. It could also potentially take them out, if necessary. The ACTUV would motor around in the water for months at a time without any of the restrictions that come with having humans on board. Think of it as a sort of drone for the sea.
6. DARPA Robotics Challenge
Human beings are fragile creatures who react poorly to things like extreme heat or cold, poisonous gas, or nuclear radiation. Robots, on the other hand, aren’t the least bit bothered by such trifles. The DARPA Robotics Challenge is seeking to make a number of technological breakthroughs in the area of autonomous robotics such as increases in the strength, dexterity, and endurance possible for mechanical beings.
Ostensibly, the purpose is to build robots capable of cleaning up hazardous waste or performing other jobs that would be too dangerous for humans. The robots will be able to move and function on their own, under human supervision of course.
8. MOIRE (Membrane Optic Imager Real-Time Exploitation)
Spy planes and satellites are expensive and limited in their ability to provide real-time images anywhere in the world. MOIRE is DARPA’s attempt at giving U.S. intelligence and military agencies the ability to to see anywhere, anytime.
To do so MOIRE is working to perfect something called an optical membrane. Thin polymer membranes will work similarly to the glass camera lenses used in satellite spy cameras, but at a fraction of the weight. Lower weight means that more of them can be launched into geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) for a given cost.
The membranes will unfold in space to make 66-foot wide lenses capable of seeing an object three feet across from 22,000 miles away. The ultimate aim of MOIRE is to create a network of satellites equipped with these Membrane Optic Imagers that will give the military omnipresent eyes in the skies. What could possibly go wrong?
9. Warrior Web
The Warrior Web is one of the many solutions DARPA is trying to solve the problem of overburdened soldiers carrying 100-pound combat loads. Instead of a mechanical “dog” following soldiers around carrying their gear, what if each soldier were, well, stronger?
Without resorting to engineered super-soldiers à la Hollywood, Warrior Web uses a sort of mechanical exoskeleton to augment the soldier’s strength. The system will take some of the weight off of the wearer’s lower body without restricting movement or getting in the way of body armor. The goal is to do all this with a lightweight piece, and a power draw of less than 100 watts.