Apr 21

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, that secretive band of Pentagon geeks that searches obsessively for the next big thing in the technology of warfare, is 50 years old. To celebrate, DARPA invited Vice President Dick Cheney, a former Defense Secretary well aware of the Agency’s capabilities, to help blow out the candles. “This agency brought forth the Saturn 5 rocket, surveillance satellites, the Internet, stealth technology, guided munitions, unmanned aerial vehicles, night vision and the body armor that’s in use today,” Cheney told 1,700 DARPA workers and friends who gathered at a Washington hotel to mark the occasion. “Thank heaven for DARPA.”

Created in the panicky wake of the Soviets’ launching of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, DARPA’s mission, Cheney said, is “to make sure that America is never again caught off guard.” So, the Agency does the basic research that may be decades away from battlefield applications. It doesn’t develop new weapons, as much as it pioneers the technologies that will make tomorrow’s weapons better.

So what’s hot at DARPA right now? Bugs. The creepy, crawly flying kind. The Agency’s Microsystems Technology Office is hard at work on HI-MEMS (Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical System), raising real insects filled with electronic circuitry, which could be guided using GPS technology to specific targets via electrical impulses sent to their muscles. These half-bug, half-chip creations — DARPA calls them “insect cyborgs” — would be ideal for surveillance missions, the agency says in a brief description on its website. Continue reading »

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Apr 04

Biological weapons delivered by cyborg insects. It sounds like a nightmare scenario straight out of the wilder realms of science fiction, but it could be a reality if a current Pentagon project comes to fruition.

Right now, researchers are already growing insects with electronics inside them. They’re creating cyborg moths and flying beetles that can be remotely controlled. One day, the US military may field squadrons of winged insect/machine hybrids with on-board audio, video or chemical sensors. These cyborg insects could conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions on distant battlefields, in far-off caves, or maybe even in cities closer to home, and transmit detailed data back to their handlers at US military bases.

Today, many people fear US government surveillance of email and cell phone communications. With this program, the Pentagon aims to exponentially increase the paranoia. Imagine a world in which any insect fluttering past your window may be a remote-controlled spy, packed with surveillance equipment. Even more frightening is the prospect that such creatures could be weaponized, and the possibility, according to one scientist intimately familiar with the project, that these cyborg insects might be armed with “bio weapons”.

For the past 50 years, work by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – the Pentagon’s blue skies research outfit – has led to some of the most lethal weaponry in the US arsenal: from Hellfire-missile-equipped Predator drones and stealth fighters and bombers to Tomahawk cruise missiles and Javelin portable “fire and forget” guided missiles. Continue reading »

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