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DARPA's Futuristic Projects

Date: 11-08-09
Host: Ian Punnett
Guests: Michael Belfiore, Peter Lance

Space and technology writer Michael Belfiore talked about DARPA, the maverick and controversial Defense Dept. group, whose futuristic work has had amazing civilian and military applications. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is headquartered in an unmarked office building in Arlington, VA and only 10% of its staff is military, he noted. There is little bureaucracy associated with this agency, he said, and ideas can often quickly get funded and researched, even if they are later tossed aside after they have been demonstrated to be possible.

In 1969, when the agency was known as ARPA, they developed the first computer-to-computer communication (it started off as a mere two character message "LO"). The network, called ARPANET, is considered the precursor to today's Internet. Belfiore noted that some of DARPA's commissioned studies like a plan to build a mechanical elephant as a military device, have been ridiculed, while other research they've done such as with lasers have led to breakthroughs in the medical field (LASIK, for example).

He detailed a number DARPA's recent/current research projects:

  • The Auto Car-- vehicles that drive themselves or can take over based on observational cues.
  • Thinking Computers-- Projects such as P.A.L. (Personal Assistants that Learn) attempt to have computers anticipate our needs
  • Trauma Pod-- automated medical treatment on the battlefield
  • Artificial Limbs-- would be indistinguishable from real ones
  • Advanced Solar Power-- could reduce the need for soldiers to carry batteries
  • Wakefulness-- a nasal spray that would keep people awake for days, without deleterious effects

Army & Radical Islam

First hour guest, investigative reporter Peter Lance discussed the Army's track record with radical Islamic soldiers. While he advocated that Americans not get swept up in an anti-Muslim wave, he commented that when people corrupt religion into extremism and hate, we need to look closely at them as potential threats.

Related Articles

DARPA's Balloon Challenge

DARPA is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Internet with an unusual 'Network Challenge.' The competition is offering a $40,000 cash prize to the first person who can correctly identify the specific locations of 10 moored, 8-foot weather balloons placed across the continental United States. More on the Challenge at Popular Science.

Ian Punnett's Blog

Check out Ian's latest musings and insights at his blog site.

Bumper Music

Bumper music from Sunday November 08, 2009

  • Moms
    A Tribe Called Quest

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