Inventions
286 voters

The Coolest DARPA Projects

Updated February 13, 2020 960 votes 286 voters 13.5k views17 items

Since its founding in 1958, DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has kept the United States as a technological leader in robotics, electronics, communications, and combat. President Eisenhower first authorized what was then known as ARPA as a response to the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, and the Agency quickly became known for its far-fetched research,  its startling advances, and its secrecy.

Inventions by DARPA have changed the way we communicate, work, and travel - both in peace and war. Our list of DARPA projects includes concepts crucial to the internet, GPS, interactive maps, advanced computing, and transportation. And DARPA researchers are currently working on an astounding array of projects, everything from robotic dogs to healing microchips. Much of it won't work, and some of it won't ever see the light of day - but everything DARPA does keeps the US on the forefront of technological dominance.

This DARPA projects list features some of the coolest, most attention-getting innovations DARPA has been involved with. Which inventions and breakthroughs do you think are the coolest in DARPA history? Vote them up below!
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    Self-Guided Bullets

    Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) will be the first smart, self-guided bullets, able to change direction once fired. Using lasers affixed onto a target, the bullets feature optical tips that can detect these signatures. Signals are then sent to tiny fins that help guide the bullet towards that laser signature - even changing their path during flight.

    In 2014, the Pentagon successfully conducted a live-fire test utilizing EXACTO rounds, and more research is currently underway - though the exact details are classified.

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  • 6

    Excalibur Laser

    To reduce the damaged caused by close-quarters battles fought in urban settings, DARPA is developing laser weapons that are small and efficient enough to be deployed in combat. These experimental laser weapons will be 10 times lighter than existing high-power laser systems deployed on ships for anti-missile purposes.

    The Project Excalibur laser was fired in 2014 and hit a target 7 kilometers away. Researchers continue to perfect and miniaturize the technology, with the eventual goal being the deployment of a 100 kilowatt laser that can hit targets in space.

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  • 7

    Stealth Aircraft

    DARPA has been instrumental in funding and developing all of the technology used in the F-117 stealth fighter, B-2 stealth bomber, and upcoming stealth aircraft like the F-22.

    Stealth development started in the early 1970s when DARPA developed "Project Harvey" - an initiative to develop a plane with the smallest radar cross section possible. Lockheed was one of the companies contracted to work on the project, and theirHave Blue” radar-evading aircraft first flew in 1977. This prototype directly led to the F-117.

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  • 8

    GPS

    Following the launch of Sputnik in October 1957, two US physicists at the Applied Physics Lab (APL) discovered that by using radio transmissions and the Doppler effect they could pinpoint the precise location of the Soviet satellite.

    DARPA jumped in to use the technology in Polaris missile research, which required it to know the precise location of submarines carrying the missile. Seven years later,  the TRANSIT system, later known as NAVSAT, went live as the first operational satellite navigation system. It was only decommissioned two years after GPS went fully operational in 1994. DARPA is also working on the next generation of GPS, a system known as ASPN - a system that will be more flexible and accurate than anything currently around.

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