DARPA 2007 Pt2: Major Achievements, Future Plans, & Medical Benefits

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As I previously reported, DARPA has announced its strategic plan for 2007.  In this part 2 of my analysis of what their future will bring us, I will summarize their major system achievements to date. No doubt there have beeen hundreds of amazing projects with countless devices that were produced.  Here are the top major areas where they propelled advancement and a roadmap for the major future target projects and my view of the potential medical offshoots of each.  If you are unfamiliar with how and why the military’s R&D projects leads to revolutionary medicine more than biomed industry read the details here first.

DARPA was launched in 1957 after the Russians beat us into space with Sputnik, and therefore all the initial projects were space related.  In fact, the creation of NASA alsmost saw the dismatling of DARPA. 

DARPA Lists the following as their major accomplishments.  After this list you’ll find their 2007 and future projects and my medical offshoot benefit predictions.

1) Stealth Technology for Aircraft:  DARPA began developing the technologies for stealthy aircraft in the early 1970s under the HAVE BLUE program, which led to prototype demonstrations in 1977 of the Air Force’s F-117 tactical fighter (of Desert Storm fame). After the DARPA HAVE BLUE Stealth Fighter program, DARPA launched the TACIT BLUE technology demonstration, contributing directly to the development of the B-2 bomber.

2) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles:  The Global Hawk and Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been seeing considerable battlefield use in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. DARPA started on the concept of a high altitude, long-range, unmanned system in the 1970s with the TEAL RAIN program. The Tier 2 Predator medium-altitude endurance UAV evolved directly from DARPA’s AMBER and Gnat 750-45 designs and was operationally deployed in the mid-1990s.

3) The Internet:  Sorry Al Gore, it was actually DARPA that invented the internet.  The most well known of all DARPA technologies began in the 1960s-1970s with the development of the ARPANet and its associated TCP/IP network protocol architecture. DARPA’s development of packet switching is the fundamental element of both public and private networks spanning the DoD, the Federal Government, U.S. industry, and the world.

MAJOR FUTURE ICONIC PLANS:  The Strategic plan for 2007 lays out the following major strategic plans of focus- along with my view of potential medical applications

• Chip-Scale Atomic Clock: miniaturizing an atomic clock to fit on a chip to provide very accurate time as required, for example, in assured network communications – technology could be used on various implantable diagnostic devices as well as for implantable next generation pacemakers and regulatory bioimplants


• Global War on Terrorism: technologies to identify and defeat terrorist activities such as the manufacture and deployment of improvised explosive devices- will lead to the development of new smart diagnostic chips and devices.  While initially these will screen for explosives and threat molecules, in the future these could identify tumor markers, metabolomic molecules, drug levels, and countless diagnostic and therapeutic molecules.

• Air Vehicles: unmanned air vehicles that quickly arrive at their mission station and can loiter there for very long periods.  The development of unmanned rover devices will directly affect the ability to produce and control implantable miniaturized diagnostic rovers placed into the human body.

• Space: The U.S. military’s ability to use space is one of its major strategic advantages, and DARPA is working to ensure the United States maintains that defense advantage.  Space medicine research will directly come from this next generation of off-world research.  It is still unknown what new types of materials can be produce in weightless ness and how 0-gravity will affect biologically systems.  The research is coming…

• High Productivity Computing Systems: supercomputers are fundamental to a variety of military operations, from weather forecasting to cryptography to the design of new weapons;DARPA is working to maintain our global lead in this technology.  Supercomputers will directly be used to crack genetic codes and to test potential new therapeutic molecules.  The future of expanded supercomputing will see a shift to much more of the process being done on-line as opposed to on the bench-top.  Genes will be identified, their proteins calculated, and therapeutic drugs designed and initially tested in the virtual world. 
• Real-Time Accurate Language Translation: real-time machine language translation of structured and unstructured text and speech with near-expert human translation accuracy.  Not sure on this one.  Maybe it will just let me get tech support form Dell better.  Then again, I never got a chance to take that spanish for doctors course so this would have helped a lot in the ER to get a better history!

• Biological Warfare Defense: technologies to accelerate the development and production of vaccines and other medical therapeutics from 12 years to only 12 weeks.  Medical use is obvious on this one.

• Prosthetics: developing prosthetics that can be controlled and perceived by the brain, just as with a natural limb.  Medical use is obvious.

• Quantum Information Science: exploiting quantum phenomena in the fields of computing, cryptography, and communications, with the promise of opening new frontiers in each area.  Fundemental new knowledge in how materials operate.  Countless medical implications as we change our understanding.
• Newton’s Laws for Biology: DARPA’s Fundamental Laws of Biology program is working to bring deeper mathematical understanding and accompanying predictive ability to the field of biology, with the goal of discovering fundamental laws of biology that extend across all size scales.  Medical implications are staggering, huge, and obvious.

• Low-Cost Titanium: a completely revolutionary technology for extracting titanium from the ore and fabricating it promises to dramatically reduce the cost for military-grade titanium alloy, making it practical for many more applications.  Could lead to low weight high strength implants, surgical tools, and prosthetics.

• Alternative Energy: technologies to help reduce the military’s reliance on petroleum.  Can afford to drive to the hospital.

•High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System: novel, compact, high power lasers making practical small-size and low-weight speed-of-light weapons for tactical mobile airand ground-vehicles.  Potential new therapuetic energy source for surgery.

Stay tuned for Part 3 on ongoing projects for 2007 from DARPA…

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