DARPA Commences New Program to Build Robotic Systems

By CIOReview | Friday, May 22, 2015
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FREMONT, CA: The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) commences a new program, christened as ‘Robotics Fast Track;’ to help small businesses, and individuals with no prior experience with the federal government, develop new robotics capabilities. To achieve the desired results, the agency has entered into a partnership with the Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF) and BIT Systems to assist non-traditional entities work with the federal government for the first time.

“Lots of smart people have good ideas for advancing the state of the art, but aren't ready to invest the time and effort necessary to navigate the government's traditional contracting mechanisms,” notes Brian Gerkey, CEO and founder of OSRF. “Through RFT, we aim to support these people, explore their ideas and change the landscape of robotics at a pace that wasn't previously possible.”

The program enables rapid, cost-effective development of new robotics capabilities designed to respond to, and even anticipate, quickly emerging warfighter requirements. It focuses on initiating development of innovative robotic hardware and software by providing adequate funds, creative adaptations of current resources, cost and time efficiently.

Mark Micire, DARPA programme manager observes that much time is spent on ‘creating three to four-year solutions for six-month problems.’ Speaking about the program, he continues, "We want this new generation of robotics innovators to see DARPA as a partner that can help them develop breakthrough technologies in the areas that personally interest them and help translate their ideas and know-how into game-changing capabilities.

Participants are required to build from bottom up prototype systems and proofs of concept over the coming year, over a period lasting from six months to one year at a standard cost of $150,000.

The army-technology.com reports, ‘The program will explore expansion and augmentation of commercial off-the-shelf technologies, leveraging open source, open standards and rapid prototyping capabilities and developing technologies that will improve the agility, speed, endurance and range of robotic platforms.”

In the broadest sense the RFT program intends to include everything from:

  • Expansion and augmentation of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies
  • Leveraging open source, open standards and rapid prototyping capabilities
  • Technologies to greatly improve the agility, speed, endurance and range of robotic platforms
  • Technologies to dramatically advance capabilities related to robotic sensing, perception, planning and communication
  • Technologies that could apply to one or more key military operational domains (air, ground, maritime and space) and/or mission areas (including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, situational awareness, and humanitarian assistance/disaster response)
  • Technologies that could also apply to complementary non-military national security missions (including law enforcement, firefighting and emergency response)

The program has already received support from agencies including the army, navy, the department of homeland security, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.