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14 Near Future DARPA Projects

The American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA was established on February 7, 1958 under the Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. During its initial period it was known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).
The advanced agency was created solely to serve the US military with formulating and executing new research and development projects with the aim to reach beyond immediate military requirements. The need of such agency was felt after the Soviet’s successful launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, and its primary mission is to ensure a high level American military technology that would be more advanced than that of the nation’s potential enemies.

Today, we’ll go through some of the near future DARPA projects that are currently going one and capable to change the world for the better.


Under the EXtreme ACcuracy Tasked Ordnance program, DARPA is developing first of a kind, smart, self guided bullets with a collaboration of Lockheed Martin and Teledyne Scientific & Imaging. These bullets are designed to be able to change their projected path during flight to adjust with the movement of a target or any other factors that might have driven the bullet off course.

Its advanced real-time optical guidance systems help track and direct projectiles i.e, bullets to their targets by adjusting for weather, wind, target movement and other factors. Recently, in 2016, Russia also revealed that they are already working on a similar “smart bullet” designed to hit targets at a distance of up to 10 km.


The High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System project was started to Counter SAM systems that an aircraft may encounter. The modern SAM’s or Surface-to Air Missiles poses a much greater threat to a fighter aircraft because of their higher speed, long range and high maneuverability. In principle, the system will use a powerful laser to shoot down missiles, mortars, rockets and artillery shells. 

During an official press release, DARPA program manager Rich Bagnell said, “The technical hindrance were daunting, but it is extremely gratifying to have produced a new type of solid-state laser with unprecedented power and beam quality for its size,”. He continued, “The HELLADS laser is now ready to be put to the test on the range against some of the toughest tactical problems our fighters face.”

12. ARES (Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System)

ARES is an ongoing research project for an unmanned vertical take-off and landing flight module that can transport various payloads in distressed situations or hostile regions. The concept was initially started as the TX program (Transformer) under DARPA in 2009 for a terrain-independent transportation system focused on a land based vehicle that could be modified into a VTOL vehicle that can carry a set number of personnel.

Like TX, ARES will also be centered to use flight to avoid ground-based transportation threats such as ambushes and IEDs, and it is also capable to evade aerial threats like air-to air missile attacks. The ARES will be powered by twin tilting ducted fans which have its own power system, fuel, digital flight controls, and remote command-and-control interfaces.

11. One Shot XG

Whether it’s in a movie or in a real life, a sniper has to go through a series of back breaking and tiring drills to make himself a perfect marksman. There are many factors that can affect a fired shot over a long range, which a sniper have to control by performing several calculations and using a little bit of physics. To ease this pressure and to increase effectiveness of military snipers, DARPA introduced an advanced program One Shot XG in 2013.

The program aims to improve the accuracy of snipers with a help of a small, mountable scope system that can either be placed on its spotting scope or on weapon’s barrel. The system is specifically designed to compute a number of important variables, such as crosswind conditions, the maximum effective range of the weapon, and weapon alignment etc., using an internal Linux-based system.

10. PCAS (Persistent Close Air Support)

DARPA started their PCAS program in 2010 to bring radical changes in traditional Close air support. CAS was first successfully deployed during the World War I in which ground soldiers can call in air support to gain tactical advantage over an enemy. In conventional close air support, pilots and ground forces have to rely on voice communications and shared maps to perform coordinated attacks. They are slow, time consuming and un-precise. It was DARPA who came up with the solution.

The PCAS’ main objective is to increase effectiveness of the air support by enabling dismounted ground agents like Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) and combat crews to share real-time situational awareness and weapons systems data. The system would simply enable ground based agents to positively identify multiple targets simultaneously.

9. VTOL X-Plane

The Vertical Take-Off and Landing Experimental Aircraft program was launched to test an innovative aircraft design that can not only take off vertically, but efficiently hover while flying faster than any conventional helicopters. Although, there have been many previous attempts, but most of them were unsuccessful.

DARPA’s VTOL experimental plane, the program seeks to beat these challenges through an unconventional mix between the fixed-wing and rotary-wing, with the goal of bringing radical improvements in vertical flight.

8. Integrated Sensor is Structure

Image source: wikimedia

The ISS or The Integrated Sensor is Structure is designed to provide continuous surveillance, tracking, and engagement of hundreds of critical air and ground targets at a single time in any conditions and terrain, without requiring support facilities or personnel.

The project was initiated by DARPA with a joint collaboration with United States Air Force (USAF) to test the capability an unmanned plane or a drone as a high-altitude aerial reconnaissance platform. The proposed aircraft would be enabled with active electronically scanned array radar, fitted into the structure of the airship, to observe any ground movement and also movement in the sky. The project’s current focus is on various levels of risk reduction on radar.

7. Big Mechanism

Imagine a program or a software that will write our homework or do your assignments and all you have to do is insert you books and study materials. Brilliant isn’t it? Well, we can say anything about your homework. But, DARPA is developing a sophisticated software that will read existing research papers on cancer, integrate them into a model and frame new hypotheses.

The program has three different stages. The first is to read text and then convert it into formal representations. Second is to integrate the knowledge into computational models. Third, and last is to produce experimentally testable explanations and predictions.

6. Memex

Today, what we call web is more like an indexed web or visible web, which use a unified or suitable for all approach that searches the Internet with a similar pattern for every individual query. However, these search practices ignore the information available in the deep web, which is simply an another part of the web that is not indexed by standard search engines. To change that, DARPA has initiated the Memex program.

The program is driven to develop a software that not only enhances online search capabilities beyond the current state, but will also enforce better methods for interacting and sharing information, so users can quickly organize and search sets of information relevant to their individual interests. The program would provide the improved content discovery, extraction, data mining, user collaboration and other key search functions.

5. RAM

Well, don’t confuse it with Random Assess Memory, RAM in this case stands for “Restoring Active Memory.” In the United States, Traumatic brain injury is one of the major causes of disability in the military personals. The brain trauma results in inability to retrieve previous memories prior to injury and also reduce capacity to form or retain new memories following injury. To find a solution, DARPA with the help of RAM Replay seeks to allow individuals to remember episodic memories and previously learned skills. They are hoping to develop ways to enhance recall of both declarative memory (facts and experiences) and procedural memory.

Each single memory in the human brain is the result of biological processes that build up in the formation of neural connections in the brain. Multiple mechanisms are involved in memory formation and recall, including brain networks that govern perception, attention and emotion. 

In addition to TBI efforts, the project will support animal studies to advance the quantitative models that account for the encoding and retrieval of complex memories, including their hierarchical associations with one another.

4. ACTUV and Gremlins

In the year 2014, DARPA and Office of Naval Research (ONR) initiated a joint project on ASW Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel or ACTUV. The project’s focus is to develop an unmanned vessel which can intelligently track quiet diesel electric submarines and possibly underwater mines. It is claimed that the ACTUV will be “a first unmanned naval vessel that is designed and for global independent deployment”.

If the project turns out to be a major success, the program could transform the current ASW in US Navy by 2018. While the ACTUV program is currently focused on the ASW tracking capability, the core platform and technologies are broadly extendable to perform a wide range of missions for future unmanned naval vessels.

Since the emergence of fighter planes, air forces have heavily relied on their capable multi-role manned aircraft to execute combat and reconnaissance missions. But, since the technology to detect and engage those aircraft also have improved over time, those manned warplanes cost both money and lives. Now imagine how it would be if we can send unmanned drones, which is also less expensive than a manned aircraft. To make this a reality, DARPA launched a program called Gremlins. These Gremlins or UASs can be deployed from an large aircraft or a mother-ship. After completion of their mission, they can be retrieved and deployed again for a mission after 24 hours.

3. Pathogen Predators

There is no question about the fact that widespread or more likely overuse of antibiotics has led to the emergence of antibiotic resistance in many pathogenic bacteria. This situation gave rise to an urgent threat worldwide. In response, DARPA has launched the Pathogen Predators program that will explore the potential use of living predatory bacteria to cure bacterial infections caused by threat agents and antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

This approach may result in a departure from conventional antibacterial therapies that depend on small molecule antibiotics. If successful, the program will lay the groundwork for a living predator-based therapies that are safe and efficacious against a large number of infectious diseases, especially those that are resistant to conventional treatments.

Read: 14 Space Discoveries By Amateur Astronomers


SyNAPSE 16 Chip Board: Wikimedia

SyNAPSE stands for Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics is a DARPA program that focuses to develop a new kind low power electronic neuromorphic technology. Simply, it is an effort to generate a whole new kind of a cognitive computer with a closer resemblance to the mammalian brain with respect to form and function.

Read: 14 Superfast Conceptual Spacecraft Engines

In the initial stages of the SyNAPSE program, scientists have been able to develop a nanometer scale electronic synaptic component, which is capable to adapt the connection between 2 neurons in a manner that is found in biological systems, and simulated the utility of these electronic synaptic components in core microcircuits that support the entire system architecture.

1. XS-1

Credit: Northrop Grumman

The XS-1 is an experimental booster plane designed to deliver military satellites into the earth’s orbit. Well, it is not just about delivering more satellites into the space, but making it more affordable. The experimental space plane is intended to be reusable, meaning it can be frequently deployed over several times in a given time period.

Read: 30 Amazing NASA Inventions That We Use In Our Daily Life

The XS-1 is intended to replace the traditional “first stage” of a multistage rocket system that will be capable of flying at much higher speed at below orbital altitude, enabling one or more upper stage to separate and deploy a payload into low Earth orbit. Further, the XS-1 would then return to Earth’s surface, to repeat the process at least once every 24 hours just like an aircraft. According to DARPA, the program hopes to “demonstrate the technology that can fabricate and fly a reusable aircraft-like spacecraft to the edge of space”.

  • Cecilia Teixeira

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