Stories tagged DARPA

Green June Beetles (before cyber-enhancement)
Green June Beetles (before cyber-enhancement)Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are commonly used in military operations. Micro air vehicles (MAVs) are a subcategory of UAVs that are currently in development and can be as small as 15 centimeters (~ 5.9 inches); their anticipated uses include search-and-rescue, surveillance, detection of explosives, and monitoring of hazardous environments.

Two researchers from the University of Michigan researchers had an idea: instead of building UAVs the size of an insect, why not use the insects themselves? Professor Khalil Najafi and doctoral student Erkan Aktakka engineered a piezoelectric generator that converted the kinetic energy from the wing movements of a Green June Beetle into electricity (45 µW per insect). Their research was recently published in the paper, "Energy scavenging from insect flight," which appeared in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.Cyborg Beetle: Through a device invented at the University of Michigan, an insect's wing movements can potentially generate enough electricity to power small devices such as a camera, microphone, or gas sensor.
Cyborg Beetle: Through a device invented at the University of Michigan, an insect's wing movements can potentially generate enough electricity to power small devices such as a camera, microphone, or gas sensor.Courtesy Erkan Aktakka

This research was funded by the Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

University News Release: Insect cyborgs may become first responders, search and monitor hazardous environs

Jul
10
2010

Bloodshed happens

Bags of blood
Bags of bloodCourtesy spike55151

A lot of blood is shed every day. Many lives are being saved when that shed blood is replaced. Donated blood is only good for a few weeks. Also there is the worry about contamination (HIV, Aids, etc.). What the world needs is a way to manufacture and deliver blood as needed.

Wanted-fresh blood on tap

Our Defense Department's research division (DARPA) wants a a self-contained system that could turn out 100 units of universal blood a week for eight weeks. The system needs to withstand war front conditions and be not much bigger than a refrigerator.

$2 million awarded

That task and $1.95 million was assigned to Arteriocyte less than two years ago. (see Popular Mechanics, Dec 2008 - Bringing Stem Cells to War: Meet the Blood Pharmers). The technology, called Nanex, uses a nanofiber-based structure that mimics bone marrow in which blood cells multiply, according to the company. (cnet News)

FDA approval sought

This week an initial shipment of their pharmed blood product was sent to the Food and Drug Administration for an independent evaluation. If approved, their cost of $5000 per unit of manufactured blood will need to be reduced.

Still, given the price tag of transporting and storing donated blood, Darpa’s betting that a unit of pharmed blood will make financial sense once it costs less than $1,000. Wired

May
26
2010

Little Dog can handle rough terrain

Remember Big Dog, DARPA's new robotic pack carrying robot?
Now, Little Dog shows off, navigating rough terrain and obstacles.

(Little Dog) methodically moves over obstacles much larger than its leg length and body size—it measures 11.8 by 7.1 inches (30 by 18 centimeters), stands 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) tall and weighs 4.9 pounds (2.2 kilograms). Scientific American

Nov
23
2009

Reverse engineering the brain
Reverse engineering the brainCourtesy Thomas Schultz

Engineering computers that can think

Even simple brains, like those in a mouse, are amazing. A brain the size of a thimble that requires almost no energy, can navigate through mazes, survive in severe weather, or escape from a cat. Will we ever create a computer capable of such adaptable and creative "thinking"? One approach is to reverse engineer the brain of a mouse, rat, or cat.

Computer simulation achieves cat brain complexity

Dharmendra S. Modha is a team leader at IBM who is attempting to understand and build such a brain as cheaply as possible. Their latest achievement is a brain simulation with 1 billion spiking neurons and 10 trillion individual learning synapses.

Synapses are the key

Synapses are junctions between neurons and a key to how a brain learns. The strength of the chemical reactions within the synapses changes as the animal interacts with the environment These synaptic junctions are thought to encode our individual experience.

The problem with today's computers

Regular computer architecture has a separation between computation and memory.

“Surely there must be a less primitive way of making big changes in the store than by pushing vast numbers of words back and forth through the von Neumann bottleneck. Not only is this tube a literal bottleneck for the data traffic of a problem, but, more importantly, it is an intellectual bottleneck that has kept us tied to word-at-a-time thinking instead of encouraging us to think in terms of the larger conceptual units of the task at hand. Thus programming is basically planning and detailing the enormous traffic of words through the von Neumann bottleneck, and much of that traffic concerns not significant data itself, but where to find it.”

DARPA's SyNAPSE program

The goal of a DARPA program known as SyNAPSE (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics) is to create new electronics hardware and architecture that can understand, adapt and respond to a a changing environment.

What is cognitive computing?

Cognitive computing is the quest to engineer mind-like intelligent machines by reverse-engineering the computational function of the brain.

There is no definition or specification of the human mind. But, we understand it as a collection of processes of sensation, perception, action, cognition, emotion, and interaction. Yet, the mind seems to integrate sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell effortlessly into a coherent whole, and to act in a context-dependent way in a changing, uncertain environment. The mind effortless creates categories of time, space, and object, and interrelationships between these.

Learn more about cognitive computing

Nov
21
2009

Robots that "think for themselves"

Fly's eyes: Can the nerves, eyes, and brain function of a fly be modeled within a computer circuit?
Fly's eyes: Can the nerves, eyes, and brain function of a fly be modeled within a computer circuit?Courtesy NeilsPhotography
Engineers are trying to design machines that can "think for themselves" when on surveillance or search and rescue missions. Somehow the machines has to look at its environment and decide what to do.
Have you ever tried to catch a fly? They are pretty good at seeing your hand and knowing just how to escape your grasp.

If we can figure out how a fly can do it ...

Can we figure out how a fly is able see, and find food, and escape from our fly swatters? With today's super microscopes, I am sure that we can visualize and model every nerve connection, muscle fiber, and eye facet.

Computational biology

David O’Carroll, a computational neuroscientist who studies insect vision at Australia’s University of Adelaide has been studying the optical flight circuits of flies, measuring their cell-by-cell activity. In a paper published in Public Library of Science Computational Biology, O’Carroll and fellow University of Adelaide biologist Russell Brinkworth describe an

algorithm composed of a series of five equations through which data from cameras can be run. Each equation represents tricks used by fly circuits to handle changing levels of brightness, contrast and motion, and their parameters constantly shift in response to input.

The "fly brain" circuits are small and use only a fraction of a milliwatt

“It’s amazing work,” said Sean Humbert, who builds miniaturized, autonomous flying robots,

“For traditional navigational sensing, you need lots of payload to do the computation. But the payload on these robots is very small — a gram, a couple of Tic Tacs. You’re not going to stuff dual-core processors into a couple Tic Tacs.

Learn more - mathematical modeling of insect biology

Secret Math of Fly Eyes Could Overhaul Robot Vision Wired Science
Robust Models for Optic Flow Coding in Natural Scenes Inspired by Insect Biology Computational Biology

We have constructed a full model for motion processing in the insect visual pathway incorporating known or suspected elements in as much detail as possible. We have found that it is only once all elements are present that the system performs robustly, with reduction or removal of elements dramatically limiting performance. The implementation of this new algorithm could provide a very useful and robust velocity estimator for artificial navigation systems.

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The culmination of 3.5 years of research has led to controllable monocopter that can autorotate like a maple seed (Acer diabolicum Blume) and fly like a helicopter (hover and forward flight). The vehicle, invented at the University of Maryland, Aerospace Engineering Autonomous Vehicle Laboratory and Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center, is the smallest and most capable to date as it meets most of the challenges set forth by DARPA's nano-air-vehicle program.
Learn more
University of Maryland web page about Proj9 Robotic Samara

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Remember the four legged robotic pack animal "BigDog"? Now a two legged version called "PetMan" is almost ready to carry your stuff.

Apr
11
2009

Amazing nano factories known as proteins

Protein structure: three representations of the protein triose phosphate isomerase.
Protein structure: three representations of the protein triose phosphate isomerase.Courtesy Opabinia regalis
Understanding proteins and how they work is very useful. One type of protein called an enzyme is like a nano sized factory that can take apart molecules or build new molecules out of smaller parts.

Plant cellulose can be turned into ethanol fuel. Oil slicks could be digested into non-pollutants. Custom designed proteins will soon allow "living" factories that can manufacture almost anything we can imagine. Protein "hackers" are creating synthetic antibodies — proteins designed to bind tightly to specific targets, such as tumor cells, which can then be destroyed.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

To accomplish this goal, DARPA is investing in the development of new tools in diverse areas such as topology, optimization, the calculation of ab initio potentials, synthetic chemistry, and informatics leading to the ability to design proteins to order. At the conclusion of this program, researchers expect to be able to design a new complex protein, within 24 hours, that will inactivate a pathogenic organism. Protein Design Processes (DARPA)

The Protein Data Bank and Rosetta@Home

Proteins are made from a complex chain of amino acids. Several resources are helping to illuminate the complex relationship between the sequence of a chain of amino acids, the shape into which that chain will ultimately fold, and the function executed by the resulting protein.

The Protein Data Bank is an ever growing data bank of detailed schematic protein information. Another program that is helping to understand how proteins are shaped is the Rosetta@Home project which allows thousands of home computers to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins being designed by researchers.

Try protein folding

"Would you like to play a new computer game and help scientists analyze protein chemistry -- at the same time? Here is a fun and interesting computer puzzle game that is designed to fold proteins -- the objective is to correctly fold a protein into the smallest possible space." Grrlscientist

Watch this video to learn how to "fold-it"

Mar
18
2008

Watch this video of BigDog, the robot pack animal

BigDog has been improved. It now carries 340 lbs. on ice, through snow, over obstacles, and can even jump over things.

Aug
19
2006

Satellite vulnerability: Photo from Wikipedia Commons
Satellite vulnerability: Photo from Wikipedia Commons

One possible solution

The high energy particles spewed out of sunspots can knock out satellites and electric power grids. To prevent this from happening the US Air Force and the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have proposed using very low frequency radio waves to flush particles from radiation "belts" above Earth and dump them into the upper atmosphere over either one or several days.

What are the consequences?

This deluge of dumped charged particles would temporarily change the ionosphere from a "mirror" that bounced high frequency radio waves around the planet to a "sponge" that soaked them up, says Dr Craig Rodger of Otago University's physics department.
“Airplane pilots and ships would lose radio contact and some Pacific Island nations could be isolated for as long as six to seven days, depending on the system’s design and how it was operated,” he says.
GPS would likely also suffer large-scale disruptions, as signals between ground users and satellites were scrambled by the ionosphere, he added. Otego media release

Is it worth it?

Can people like Joe can go without geocaching for a week. Smart bombs also would need to take a breather because they use GPS to find their targets. We are seeing a minimum of sunspot activity right now. Sunspots peak every eleven years. The last memorable blast from the sun was July 14, 2000 so we need to make up our minds before 2011.