Helicopters and other rotorcraft are impressive bits of technology, but the only place where they match the performance of fixed-wing aircraft is in bad 1980s television. That may soon change with DARPA announcing the selection of four companies to compete in the next phase of its Vertical Take Off and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program. The four companies are tasked with developing unmanned demonstrator aircraft designed to increase the performance of VTOL rotor aircraft while reducing their complexity. Read More
Helicopters are an invaluable military resource for transporting supplies, carrying out surveillance and reconnaissance, and evacuating casualties from rugged terrain. Unfortunately, they are also a finite resource. That's why DARPA is looking to share the load with the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) concept, a compact, high-speed and highly-automated delivery system with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities. Read More
Leave it to DARPA to turn disaster relief into a competitive sport for robots, and for Google to walk away with the prize. On Saturday, 16 robotics teams from around the world competed in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials for 2013, as part of DARPA’s project for developing robots capable of autonomously navigating disaster areas and doing useful work using tools and materials at hand. The two-day event was streamed live on December 20 and 21 from Florida’s Homestead Miami Speedway. Google’s Schaft humanoid robot scored 27 points and won first place as it navigated an obstacle course which was made to simulate a disaster area, while carrying out a series of tasks. Read More
In order to dodge something, you need to see it. If that something is space debris then sometimes the best thing to use is an old-fashioned telescope – or, in the case of the US Department of Defense, a state-of-the-art telescope capable of searching an area larger than the United States in seconds. That’s why DARPA is preparing to deliver the new Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) to Western Australia, where it will help track small satellites and space debris orbiting the Earth when it becomes operational in 2016. Read More
DARPA has announced planes to use a foldable plastic lens to “break the glass ceiling” of space telescopes. It’s part of the agency’s Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE) program, which aims at replacing conventional glass optics with lightweight polymer membranes that may one day make possible a foldable plastic orbital telescope 20 m (65 ft) wide that will be capable of seeing a medium-sized dog on Earth from 36,000 km (22,000 mi) away. Read More

The goal of DARPA's multi-year Robotics Challenge is to develop robots capable of reducing the danger of rescue and relief to victims and first responders alike. Next month DARPA will pit rescue robots against a series of tasks that represent disaster scenarios. Read More

The US Navy's top SEAL, four-star Admiral William McRaven, is pushing hard for a modern suit of armor called the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS). Though not exactly an Iron Man suit, it's that ballpark. As a result, a Broad Agency Announcement has now been issued seeking proposals and research in support of the design, construction, and testing of TALOS, with a basic version hopefully seeing service within three years. Read More
Innovation is all about putting on the proverbial thinking cap. Now engineers are vying to produce an actual thinking cap – at least one that can measure the most rudimentary signals of thought. The US Department of Defense is pushing for the development of cheap, wearable systems that can detect the brain waves of people and display the data on smartphones or tablets. Read More
Boston Dynamics, the company behind DARPA's most advanced legged robots such as PETMAN, BigDog, and Atlas, has unveiled the free-roaming version of their sprinting robot Cheetah. The new robot is called WildCat, and it's already galloping at speeds up to 16 mph (25.7 km/h) on flat ground. You don't want to miss the video tucked after the break. Read More
Currently, launching satellites is an involved and expensive process. DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program hopes to make this a thing of the past, by developing a shuttle-like resuable launch system that can turn around from landing to relaunch in one day, and bring down the cost of launching by a factor of 10. Read More