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The Coolest DARPA Projects

Updated February 13, 2020 1.2k votes 281 voters 13.2k 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!
  • 1


    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.

    Cool project?
  • 2

    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.
    Cool project?
  • 3

    Project Falcon

    DARPA's Falcon Project was announced in 2003 as a joint venture with the U.S. Air Force to develop a reusable, unmanned, rapid-strike hypersonic vehicle.

    A prototype Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2) first flew in April 2010 and again in August 2011. The arrow-shaped drone flew at the insane speed of Mach 20, more than 22 times faster than commercial jetliners. While the two flights resulted in huge amounts of useful data, operators lost contact with both HTV-2 prototypes and they were presumed lost, likely due to the extreme heat caused by their speed.

    In July 2013, DARPA confirmed it would not conduct a third flight of the HTV-2, and folded the work done on the Falcon other projects, including Prompt Global Strike, and other hypersonic aircraft. The Falcon might be grounded, but its legacy lives on.

    Cool project?
  • 4

    Microscopic Pumps

    In 2008, DARPA-funded researchers created the world's smallest vacuum pump system that can be used for any electronics or sensors that require a vacuum. The Chip-Scale Vacuum Micro Pumps (CSVMP) program set out to develop the smallest, most power-efficient pumps ever created, for use in everything from chemical sensors to tiny drones.

    Researchers at the University of Michigan, MIT, and Honeywell International all contributed to the work, and the tiny pumps were unveiled in 2013.

    Cool project?