The Coolest DARPA Projects

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!
Photo: Daderot / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

  • 1
    181 VOTES

    The Internet

    While many people claim to be the originators of what's now the Internet, without research and development by DARPA, it never would have happened.

    In August 1962, American psychologist and computer scientist JCR Licklider wrote a groundbreaking paper called “On-Line Man Computer Communication" where he described a connected global network of computers that could communicate with each other.

    A few months later, he was appointed director of the new Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) at ARPA, as DARPA was known then. He was given the task of developing a network to connect Department of Defense computers across locations, and other Internet pioneers were brought in to supplement his work.

    The first host-to-host connection between PCs on what became called Arpanet was established at 10.30pm on October 29, 1969. By December, a four-node network was up and running, the first email was sent across it in 1972, and its users started referring to it as the "Internet" in 1973.

    181 votes
  • 2
    143 VOTES

    DARPA helped to fund the technology that would become the core of Google Maps and Street View. In 1978, a team from MIT was tasked with developing a way for soldiers to navigate urban environments, inspired by Israel building a mockup of Entebbe Airport in Uganda.

    The resulting technology was known as Aspen Movie Map, and allowed users to take a virtual tour of Aspen, CO. It involved a car fitted with stop-motion 16mm cameras driving down every street taking photos in four directions. The footage was loaded into a database and eventually created an interactive map of the entire city.
    143 votes
  • 3
    167 VOTES

    Universal Translator

    Star Trek has been an inspiration for technological breakthroughs ranging from cell phones to tablet computers. But DARPA is taking another key concept of the show, the universal translator that conveniently allows alien races to speak to each other in English, and making it a reality.

    DARPA's Broad Operational Language Translation (BOLT) program is exploring ways to enable translation and linguistic analysis for both online and in-person communications. The initial phases of the program are aimed at aiding active translation of English into a listener's native language and vice versa. If this is successful, DARPA plans to make BOLT a tool that could allow people to communicate fluidly without having to learn each other's language.
    167 votes
  • 4
    130 VOTES


    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.

    130 votes
  • 5
    111 VOTES

    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.

    111 votes
  • 6
    95 VOTES

    Ubiquitous High Performance Computing

    In 2009, DARPA issued a challenge that no computer geek could pass up: create the fastest and highest-performing computer system possible, that can be mobile, suck up as little energy as possible, and used by someone with no specialized training. Oh, and it has to operate at speeds that have only been dreamed of.

    The Ubiquitous High Performance Computing prototype is expected to be ready in 2018, and if successful, will revolutionize the power of small, portable computers.
    95 votes