Weirdly Interesting Things You Didn't Know About DARPA  

Mike Rothschild
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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is one of the most well known divisions of the US Department of Defense. Opened in the late '50s as a response to the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite catching the US by surprise, DARPA has been at the cutting-edge of research in electronics, engineering, computing, and military hardware.

Facts about DARPA are often shrouded in mystery, as the research they perform is highly technological and often classified. But with that reputation comes misinformation, and very few people truly understand how the Agency works, or how important its research has been to our everyday life. For example, did you know that DARPA has only about 200 employees? And that it has no actual laboratory space? Or that it once invented a mechanical elephant?

That and more things you didn't know about DARPA are just waiting for you to read on your computer or smartphone - both of which probably exist because of DARPA.

DARPA Was Founded in 1958


DARPA Was Founded in 1958 is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Things You Didn't Know About DARPA
Photo: National Library of Ireland on The Commons/flickr/No known copyright restrictions

The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was founded in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In the wake of the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite the previous year, American technology and scientific prowess was seen as falling behind that of its enemies. The aim of ARPA was to formulate and execute high-level technical projects both military and scientific in nature - all under the umbrella of the Department of Defense.

The Institution Has Changed Its Name Several Times


The Institution Has Changed It... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Things You Didn't Know About DARPA
Photo:  DARPA
The Advanced Research Projects Agency tweaked its name slightly, adding "Defense" to become DARPA in 1972. The change was meant to reflect shifting priorities in military research after Vietnam. But the "D" was taken off in 1993 - only to be restored in 1996. So ARPA became DARPA, which became ARPA, which became DARPA.

DARPA Doesn't Develop Projects to Get Results


DARPA Doesn't Develop Projects... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Things You Didn't Know About DARPA
Photo:  kuloser/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
DARPA's mandate is to dream big, not to develop new technology with the end result in mind. It researches concepts that could one day either be used by or against the United States. As such, it's not bound by the usual Federal mandates that cause massive cost overruns and delays in military research. DARPA can quickly fund and develop concepts far beyond any project the military has a direct need for - anticipating needs before they exist.

The Agency Is Fairly Small


The Agency Is Fairly Small is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Things You Didn't Know About DARPA
Photo:  PIRO4D/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
Despite DARPA's outsized reputation, it's a fairly small agency by US government standards. It has about 240 employees, approximately half which are technical staff. It has a flat organizational structure with little bureaucracy and only one level of management between the rank-and-file program managers and the Agency director. This small size allows ideas to flow quickly, and since management turns over quickly, projects rarely get stuck in limbo.