DARPA â the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – one of the key US government agencies behind the development of the internet – is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
President Eisenhower created DARPA in 1958 in response to the surprise Russian launch of Sputnik, and his guidance was clear: find and quickly develop advanced technology for the Armed Forces so the United States would never again suffer a technological surprise by another nation.
In the beginning, DARPA concentrated on space projects and developed the Saturn V rocketâwhich enabled the United States to launch the Apollo missions to the moonâand the first surveillance satellites that gave U.S. presidents accurate intelligence information on Russian missile program activities.
DARPA began the information revolution by creating the ARPANET, which led to the internet. DARPA branched out to other fields, too. It began the information revolution by creating the ARPANET that led to todayâs internet. The system began by interconnecting computers at four university research sites in the late 1960s. By 1972, it had grown to include 37 computers. Now, as Anthony J. Tether, director since 2001, pointed out, the internet it led to is approaching 1 billion connections.
Lawrence G. Roberts, who led a DARPA team that designed a network that evolved into the Internet, made some of the key decisions in 1967, when he was 30. As Roberts described it to The Washington Post, “Putting A and B together and getting Z. Taking obscure things and seeing there is an intersection there.”
DARPA changed warfare by developing stealth aircraft, advanced precision munitions, and the Predator and Global Hawk unmanned air vehicles, both of which are used in Iraq and Afghanistan today.
The Washington Post recently profiled DARPA to celebrate its 50th anniversary. DARPA is somewhat unique among government agencies with little red tape, around 240 employees and does not own or operate labs, but sponsors research carried out by industry and universities.
Some of todayâs projects DARPA is working on are:
two-way speech translation system that would permit soldiers to go anywhere in the world and understand the people around them
looking for ways to restore severely injured soldiers – researchers are trying to develop a prosthetic arm and hand that can be directly controlled by the brain and used as a natural limb, with dexterity and sensation.
More information on DARPA can be found at their website – www.darpa.mil. There is also a Wikipedia entry at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DARPA. While The Washington Post article can be found at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/06/AR2008040601821.html.