DARPA has a plan to flood the sea with drones

DARPA, the Pentagon’s research agency, has recently revealed its plans to boost the Navy’s response to threats in international waters by developing submerged unmanned platforms that can be deployed at a moment’s notice.

DARPA underwater drones

Hydra, named after the serpent-like creature with many heads in Greek mythology, would create an undersea network of unmanned payloads and platforms to increase the capability and speed the response to threats like piracy, the rising number of ungoverned states, and sophisticated defenses at a time when the Pentagon is forced to make budget cuts. According to DARPA, the Hydra system ”represents a cost effective way to add undersea capacity that can be tailored to support each mission” that would still allow the Navy to conduct special operations and contingency missions. In other words, the decreasing number of naval vessels can only be in one place at a time.

DARPA underwater 1

The renewed effort to reduce the numbers of cruisers and amphibious ships follows an initial announcement in February 2012 that, as a cost-cutting measure, the cruisers Cowpens, Anzio, Vicksburg and Port Royal would be decommissioned in 2013, with the cruisers Gettysburg, Chosin, Hue City and amphibious dock ships Whidbey Island and Tortuga following in 2014.

All were being inactivated prior to the normally-expected end of their service lives. The service looked for savings by cutting operations, canceling further modernization of the ships and reducing the need for about 3,000 sailors.

DARPA underwater 3

“The climate of budget austerity runs up against an uncertain security environment that includes natural disasters, piracy, ungoverned states, and the proliferation of sophisticated defense technologies,” said Scott Littlefield, DARPA program manager, in a statement. “An unmanned technology infrastructure staged below the oceans’ surface could relieve some of that resource strain and expand military capabilities in this increasingly challenging space.”


 (DARPA) is launching an “Upward Falling Payloads” project aimed at developing storage capsules for military assets that could stay at the bottom of the sea for years until needed.

DARPA underwater 2

The aim is to keep non-lethal technology in the sea, stored in pressurised capsules, ready for deployment. These unmanned, distributed systems would provide the military with operational support such as situational awareness, disruption, deception and rescue. One example might be small unmanned aerial vehicles which could launch to the surface in capsules, take off and then provide observation or decoy functions.

DARPA underwater sub hunter

“The goal is to support the Navy with distributed technologies anywhere, anytime over large maritime areas. If we can do this rapidly, we can get close to the areas we need to affect, or become widely distributed with out delay,” said Andy Coon, Darpa’s programme manager.


DARPA’s big eye: 1.8-gigapixel camera for air surveillance 

DARPA underwater hydra

DARPA has revealed the ARGUS-IS its mega digital camera – with a 1.8-gigapixel resolution. The camera is expected to take clear images of objects as small as 15 centimeters from an altitude of six kilometers.

One gigapixel is equal to 1,000 megapixels. For comparison: Modern professional digital cameras have a resolution of about 20 megapixels.

One petabyte is equal to 1,000 terabytes. One terabyte is equal to 1,000 gigabytes

It uses four lenses with stabilizers and 368 photo matrixes, five megapixels each. The system allows a high-res picture to be taken of objects as small as 15 centimeters across from an altitude of up to six kilometers. The system is also able to view approximately 25 square kilometers of terrain at a time and track moving objects with up to 65 simultaneous windows.

DARPA underwater megapixel

With such capabilities, experts believe that six drones equipped with the camera would make it possible for the US to keep an eye on the entirety of Washington DC, while – for the sake of comparison – four such cameras would provide a complete surveillance of Paris.


The Pentagon’s blue-sky researchers have awarded $1 million to a team of designers who they believe have built an innovative drivetrain for a Marine swimming tank. The first Darpa FANG challenge has a winner.

DARPA underwater tank

The three-person team that won convinced Darpa that their design could outperform Defense Department requirements for the Marines’ future Amphibious Combat Vehicle — which, as it happens, just got an infusion of research and development cash in the new Pentagon budget. But Darpa didn’t only want to demonstrate that it could design a better swimming tank to take Marines from ship to shore in a combat zone. It wanted to demonstrate that the wisdom of crowds can boost innovation for major defense hardware.

That test still remains. Team Ground Systems has its money, but now comes the fabrication process. The design will head to Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory to “validate the manufacturability feedback, foundry configuration, and instruction generation tools.” Then comes test and evaluation in Michigan.

So the Challenge isn’t over. Darpa wants to give out another $1 million for the hull design; and then another $2 million next year for the full, integrated vehicle. The wisdom of crowds can be lucrative.


Some other innovations coming out of DARPA

The neuromorphic bug eye cam: A 180-degree visual system for drones

Autonomous surveillance drones are basically cameras with wings. While high-resolution cameras focused on the ground might need to be optimized for contrast sensitivity and feature extraction, those that look around the sky need a wide FOV with good resolution. A new device known as the Curvace (Curved Artificial Compound Eye) has recently been developed to meet these kinds of demands. It is not so much a camera as it a complete visual system.

DARPA dragonfly

The vertebrate eye, such as your own, depends on a complex control system to bring its full resolving power to bear. Synchronizing the movement of the eye, not only with head movements and body movements, but with body motion, and the movements of the eye’s binocular partner, while tracking a moving object is not just difficult — it is for all practical purposes, a digital impossibility. For these reasons, the multi-lensed eye of the invertebrate is increasingly seen as an attractive solution to the basic problem of limited field of view.


Tiny, disposable drones monitor hurricanes and survive crash landings

DARPA hurricane 1

Some tasks are too dangerous to have a human perform, such as flying over active military zones, spying on a target, or venturing deep below the ocean’s surface. For those such tasks, modern society has developed unmanned drones that remove humans from harm’s way. However, sometimes the drones are still too expensive to put into a certain situation where damage — or complete loss of the unit — is at a high risk. The University of Florida has developed a tiny, disposable, cheap unmanned drone that can be used in dangerous situations without fearing cost or damage.