DARPA calls on DIYers for weaponized tech
- By Mark Pomerleau
- Mar 14, 2016
The increasing availability of inexpensive technologies has the potential to pose grave national security threats. That’s why the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is scouting for ideas on how products assembled from “relatively benign technologies might be converted into serious security threats,” DARPA officials said.
The goal of the Improv program is to quickly surface and prototype devices made from off-the-shelf electronics or open-source code that can cost-effectively deliver sophisticated military technologies and capabilities.
DARPA is encouraging participation from a wide swath of participants -- including technical specialists, researchers, developers and skilled hobbyists -- who may reconfigure, reprogram, modify or recombine commercially available technology. Component technology from non-military technical fields such as transportation, construction, marine and communications systems are of particular interest to the Improv team, according to the program’s presolicitation.
“DARPA’s mission is to create strategic surprise, and the agency primarily does so by pursuing radically innovative and even seemingly impossible technologies,” program manager John Main said. “Improv is being launched in recognition that strategic surprise can also come from more familiar technologies, adapted and applied in novel ways.”
Improv aims to address the fact that the United States no long enjoys a near-monopoly on access to the most advanced technologies. “When I began my career, most technology of consequence originated in America, and much of that was sponsored by the government, especially the Defense Department. Today, much more technology is commercial,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said at George Washington University in November. “And as many of you know, the competition is global. Lots of other countries are trying to catch up with our advances, the ones we’ve enjoyed for decades in areas like stealth, and cyber and space.”
“In today’s world of an enormous range of powerful technologies means that any group of experts only covers a small slice of the available possibilities,” Mann said. “In Improv we are reaching out to the full range of technical experts to involve them in a critical national security issue.”
In the three-phase program, DARPA will fund selected Improv proposals through a short feasibility-study phase and compete for the opportunity to build prototypes. DARPA will evaluate the prototypes, and a subset will proceed to a detailed evaluation regimen. If performance warrants, DARPA said it may advance the relevant capabilities in separate follow-on efforts.
A proposer’s day webcast is scheduled for March 29 and 30 introduce the targeted research community vision and goals as well as explain the approach, scope and program structure. A formal broad agency announcement is planned for mid-March, DARPA said.
Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.