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The 9 weirdest projects DARPA is working on

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) works on some very outlandish projects. One of its stated mission goals is to cause "technological surprise" for America's enemies. Basically, they want enemy fighters to get to the battlefield, look at what they're facing off against, and go, "What the hell?"


These are the DARPA projects that make that a reality.

1. Airships that can haul 2 million pounds of gear

Yeah, they're back. DARPA's attempt at new airships was scrapped in 2006 due to technology shortcomings, but the project was revived in 2013. The goal is for a craft that can carry up to two million pounds halfway around the world in five days. This would allow units to quickly deploy with all of their gear. Tank units would be left out though, unless they suddenly had a ...

2. A super-fast lightweight vehicle that drives itself

The Ground X-Vehicle looks like a spider mated with a four-wheeler. Troops could directly control it or simply select a destination and focus on the intel the vehicle provides. Either way, the vehicle would decide how to deal with incoming attacks, ducking, sidestepping, or absorbing them as necessary.

3. Aerial platforms that allow drones to land and refuel

Photo: DARPA

Flying platforms for landing and fueling drones would keep the U.S. drone program well ahead of its enemies, especially combined with the project to have drones fight as a pack. Hopefully these will be more successful than the last airborne carriers the military made.

4. Robots that gather intel and eat plants for fuel

The unmanned ground vehicle programs at DARPA want a UGV that could conduct reconnaissance indefinitely without needing to be refueled. The Energy Autonomous Tactical Robot will do that by eating plants and converting them to energy. It would also be able to steal enemy fuel when necessary.

5. Remote-controlled bugs that spy on the bad guys

Basically, remote control bugs that provide power to sensor backpacks. DARPA has already implanted control devices into pupae (insects transitioning into adults) and created electrical generators that use the insects movements for power. Now, they just have to couple those technologies with tiny sensors and find a way to make them communicate with each other and an operator who would collect intelligence from the insects.

6. Cameras that can see from every angle

DARPA isn't sure yet how this would work, but they're looking for ways to use the plenoptic function to create a sensor that can see an area from every angle. Though it would work differently, this would give capabilities like Jack Black has in "Enemy of the State."

7. Nuclear-powered GPS trackers

Photo: DARPA

Don't worry, the nuclear material is for determining velocity, not powering anything or exploding. The military has trouble directing vehicles and missiles in areas where GPS signals might be blocked or scrambled, like when submarines are underwater. Chip-Scale Combinatorial Atomic Navigator (C-SCAN) is very technical, but it would allow precise navigation without a GPS signal by precisely measuring atoms from nuclear decay.

8. Brain implants that could hold the key to defeating post-traumatic stress.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Strictly for therapy, DARPA promises. The idea may be a little unsettling, but SUBNETS (Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies)  would allow electrical currents in the brain to be mapped and then altered. This could be a major breakthrough for PTSD and traumatic brain injury sufferers.

9. Pathogens that fight back against enemy biological weapons.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Bruce Wetzel

One of the emerging threats to U.S. operations is biological weapons using antibiotic resistant bacteria. DARPA wants to nip it in the bud before an enemy can cause massive infections to American forces or civilians. To do so, they're investigating pathogens that could be cultured and deployed in victims of attacks. These killers would seek out the bacteria wreaking havoc and murder it on a microscopic level.

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OR: DARPA wants to implant chips in soldiers' brains >