The research agency is making underwater robots that can sleep for years and other robots that can fix satellites in space.
Some are listed in the agency’s biannual Breakthrough Technologies for National Security report, released this morning to coincide with DARPA director Arati Prabhakar’s testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. Others have been highlighted by DARPA officials who recently spoke around Washington. They include:
Zombie Pods Of the Deep
The Upward Falling Payloads program seeks to put robot pods on the ocean floor and then allowing them to lie in wait for years until, triggered by either an event or a command, they wake from their deathly sleep and rise to the surface to release their payloads. “Those payloads could hold things like UAVs [drones] that can go up and do ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], to electronic warfare components to UUVs [underwater drones] that can do similar things under the water,” Walker said.
He added that the aim was to create a “worldwide” architecture for such pods, allowing them to be used everywhere —and potentially even replacing submarines.
“Today, the U.S. Navy puts capability on the ocean floor using very capable but expensive submarine platforms. What we would like to do in this program is pre-position capability on the ocean floor and have it be available to be triggered in real-time when needed,” said Walker. He highlighted a wide array of technical challenges in making zombie-pod drones, such as getting them to float to the surface in the right way (a phenomenon that they call upward falling), power supplies and protecting the payloads on the ocean floor for years at a time.
“You put this thing down beneath 4 kilometers you see extremely high pressures that have to be withstood for potentially years. There’s other issues like befouling you have to think about dealing with and then the [communication] system that wakes these things up and tells them what to do.”
The program consists of three parts, DARPA program manager Dick Urban said at a National Defense Association event in Washington. “One is to make a canister that is able to hold different types of payloads.”
The program will enter its second phase this year. “We haven’t actually built anything, but we’ve done the design studies,” Urban said. “We’ll be taking those different technologies, taking them into the water and testing and seeing how well they work.” He said, “If we’re successful in this program, we’ll be showing what’s possible here, but we’ll also be showing what’s possible in terms of a distributed architecture across the entire ocean.”
The Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting or DASH program seeks to develop what Walker called “sub-ulites.” Think of these as satellites for the ocean. “Because they’re deep, they have a detection envelope that’s pretty broad,” he said.
Meanwhile, Urban highlighted the Transformational Reliable Acoustic Path System or TRAPS program, a passive sonar that sits at the bottom of the sea at six kilometers, listening for acoustic signatures that could indicate passing submarines. When it detects one, it sends word to a surface node.