With VTOL X-Planes, DARPA aims for a futuristic lift

The helicopters of the future may not look much like helicopters at all, at least in one scheme that DARPA is cooking up.

That's because DARPA, the arm of the Pentagon known for its fanciful and even sci-fi approach to military technology, wants "radical improvements" in aircraft that are capable, as helicopters are and fixed-wing planes are not, of vertical takeoff and landing, or VTOL.

The brainstorming agency has now moved a bit closer to realizing its vertical-lift ambitions. Through its VTOL X-Plane program, DARPA has awarded contracts to four companies -- heavyweights Boeing and Sikorsky, and … Read more

DARPA's hot for futuristic helicopter-like delivery drones

In hard-to-reach war zones, it can be near impossible to get supplies to ground soldiers or conduct rescue missions without coming under enemy fire or landing in minefields.

Spurred by these logistical issues, the US Department of Defense in its DARPA division is pushing to develop unmanned helicopter-like aircraft -- aka drones -- for supply runs, airborne reconnaissance missions, and casualty evacuations.

Not your ordinary drones, these futuristic machines will be designed to carry up to 3,000 pounds, have their own power system, fuel, digital flight controls, and remote command-and-control interfaces. As envisioned by DARPA, troops will be able … Read more

DARPA: 'Vanishing' spy tech will self-destruct in 3,2,1...

VAPR. It sounds like a nefarious spy agency bent on world domination, doesn't it?

Instead, VAPR stands for Vanishing Programmable Resources, and it's a new program created by DARPA -- the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- to develop tech that self-destructs either on demand or at a pre-scheduled time. That's not to say it isn't involved in the world of espionage. That's exactly its point. According to DARPA:

Sophisticated electronics can be made at low cost and are increasingly pervasive throughout the battlefield. Large numbers can be widely proliferated and used for applications such as distributed remote sensing and communications. However, it is nearly impossible to track and recover every device resulting in unintended accumulation in the environment and potential unauthorized use and compromise of intellectual property and technological advantage.

That's all another way of saying: "We want to send spy toys over enemy lines that we might not be able to get back, so we want to blow them up before the enemy gets them." … Read more

The 404 1,414: Where a podcast is just a story we tell ourselves (podcast)

Leaked from today's 404 episode:

- Google reportedly acquires AI company DeepMind for $400M.

- Here's how you can vastly increase the number of shows and movies viewable to you on Netflix.

- And who says eSports competitions aren't heated?

- The velociraptor cage from "Jurassic Park" is for sale on eBay.… Read more

Japan's Schaft has all the right stuff at DARPA robot trials

It may look like a clunky Asimo prototype from 20 years ago, but a humanoid rescue robot built by Japanese university graduates overwhelmed the competition at a prestigious Pentagon-sponsored robotics event over the weekend.

Tokyo-based Schaft won the day, scoring 27 out of 32 possible points in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), a series of trials for robots designed to aid in disaster relief efforts, such as nuclear plant accidents.

The victory is ironic for Japan. Despite the country's robotics prowess, it had no robots on hand to help with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown in 2011, the kind of emergency the DRC is trying to tackle. … Read more

DARPA wants you to play video games

The Last Starfighter it ain't, but if you ever wanted to get in good with the military without getting out of your chair, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has the job for you.

DARPA has created five games as part of what it is calling the Crowd Sourced Formal Verification (CSFV) program, aimed at locating software vulnerabilities in the commercial off-the-shelf IT systems used by military, governmental, and commercial bodies.

Called Verigames, they allow DARPA to crowdsource formal verification -- a time-consuming process whereby engineers usually scour the software manually to find the bugs. … Read more

NASA unveils 6-foot 'superhero robot' Valkyrie

What if NASA's Robonaut grew legs and indulged in steroids? The result might be close to what NASA has unveiled: Valkyrie is a humanoid machine billed as a "superhero robot."

Developed at the Johnson Space Center, Valkyrie is a 6.2-foot, 275-pound hulk designed to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC).

It will go toe to toe with the Terminator-like Atlas robot from Boston Dynamics in what's shaping up to be an amazing modern-day duel. … Read more

Crave Ep. 144: DARPA wants to put an implant in your brain

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In an effort to track the health of soldiers, DARPA has started developing brain implants to monitor brain activity in real time. We check out the new age of rhythm game apps with Duet, and admire a Mario-like side-scrolling job resume that's quite possibly the best job resume ever created. All that, and some funeral selfies, on this week's Crave show. Read more

DARPA developing implant to monitor brain in real time

There's a high incidence of mental illness reported among soldiers compared with the general population -- in fact, one in nine medical discharges is due to mental illness, according to US Army statistics. This is not surprising. If you ask people to see and do horrific things, it will likely impact them in pretty significant ways.

DARPA is seeking to understand more about how the brain works in hopes of developing effective therapies for troops and veterans. It has announced a new $70 million project called the Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (Subnets).

Subnets is inspired by Deep Brain Stimulation, or DBS, a surgical treatment that involves implanting a brain pacemaker in the patient's skull to interfere with brain activity and help with symptoms of diseases like epilepsy and Parkinson's. DARPA's device will be similar, but rather than targeting one specific symptom, it will be able to monitor and analyze data in real time and issue a specific intervention according to brain activity. … Read more

How the helicopters of the future are shaping up

You don't want to go flying into the future in yesterday's helicopters.

That's the gist of several projects under way at the Pentagon, which is looking ahead several decades toward future fleets of helicopters -- or more broadly, rotorcraft -- and working now to lay the plans for getting there.

It all starts with design. Most immediately, the Army has just awarded technology investment agreements with four aviation companies as an early step in the Defense Department's Future Vertical Lift initiative, which is meant to sketch out the route toward next-generation vertical-lift aircraft for all the … Read more