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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an independent agency of the United States Department of Defense (DOD) that focuses on developing cutting edge technology to ensure that the United States remains ahead of its enemies. The organization has contributed a number of technologies to the United States military and the world in general, including the groundwork for the Internet. Many of the workings of this agency are kept concealed from the public, in the interests of keeping its technology under wraps so that it is not exploited by other nations.
The agency was founded in 1958, after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite. The United States government realized that it needed a small, mobile, independent research organization if it wanted to meet threats to American security quickly and decisively. Initially, the agency was called the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), and it focused on aerospace research and threats to national security such as nuclear testing by other nations.
By 1972, the organization's mission had evolved, and the government had added “Defense” to the title, turning it into DARPA. It began to focus on looking forward into the future, working on highly experimental technology in small, focused groups. This system continues to be used by the agency today, with it focusing on goal-oriented projects that are intended to improve America's military and defense systems.
DARPA has a number of divisions that are divided into smaller teams focusing on a variety of issues. Information technology is an important part of its research, for example, as are tools that are used on the battlefield, such as drones, armored vehicles, and communications jamming equipment. The agency also focuses on the threat of weapons of mass destruction, and it counters emerging threats to American security and information awareness. It has many small but very dedicated groups of active researchers and experiments, who may work together for up to five years developing a project and delivering a prototype.
Because DARPA technology is used to protect national security and make the United States more effective militarily, it is largely classified. It is also extremely advanced, since the organization focuses on technological superiority. Periodically, information about agency projects does reach the public, but the details are usually deliberately obscured. Civilians, for example, might be aware that it is working on a cloaking device for camouflaging soldiers, but they will not be aware of the mechanics of the system.
If you think the new cars that boast the ability to drive in autopilot when their drivers fall asleep is a big deal, you should take note of the DARPA challenge.
This is a challenge they offer to companies that can create truly driverless vehicles. I watched a program on television that showed Carnegie Mellon and GM winning one such competition, with a Chevy Tahoe that drove through urban traffic for six hours.
The car obeyed traffic signals and drove for a total of six hours without an accident. That’s pretty impressive. One day I hope this technology will be mass produced so that we have no more accidents on the road as the result of driver error.