5 Projects You Won't Believe the US Government Is Working On
The mad inventor from the James Bond movies, Q, is real. Only there are lots of him, and they have a lot more money at their disposal. In the real world, they're called DARPA -- the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Never heard of them? You should have -- they're responsible for some of the best technology (the Internet) and the worst (Agent Orange) produced in the last 50 years. Their job is to dream up the craziest shit possible and make it real. And, since they're exempt from several government hiring and spending laws, they're not shy about thinking outside the box. Way, way outside.
Some of what they're working on right now includes ...
Creepy Robot Hummingbirds and Space Planes
If you want a plane to get to where the bad guys are without being noticed, you have several options: You can make it fly really, really high and really, really fast (as is typical with spy planes), or you can get creative. DARPA has utterly insane plans to do both.
"We've finally weaponized the doorstop, men."
First we have FALCON, or Force Application and Launch from Continental United States (we hope they pay their acronym guys really well). The FALCON program is mainly focused on the X-41 CAV -- an alien-looking, cone-shaped "near-space" plane that can go 13,000 miles per hour (which is 20 times the speed of sound).
This is either a 3-D model of it or an official DARPA bicycle seat.
If you don't understand what 20 times the speed of sound gets you, how about this: It can go anywhere in the world, and photograph or kill anyone, in an hour or so.
But DARPA is also capable of thinking small -- the kind of small that is somehow creepier than a magical instant-death murdership.
"An estimated 80 percent of conversations go unrecorded. DARPA can fix that."
That's why they're also looking into something they call micro air vehicles, like the Shrike, which basically looks exactly like a kid's RC copter and is built primarily for spying and reconnaissance. So, really, it is an RC copter, with an iPhone taped to it.
And if that sounds unimpressive, don't worry -- they're also developing the much smaller and much creepier NAV -- the Nano Air Vehicle. One day you might find one hanging around your neighbor's bird feeder.
Yes, we're talking about a tiny robot hummingbird that can spy on terrorists (and maybe you). The whole thing is less than 6 inches tall and lighter than an ounce, and as demonstrated by the image on the project's page, it will fool absolutely everyone ever.
"I AM A NORMAL EARTH HUMMINGBIRD. PLEASE DO NOT APPROACH."
This is part of DARPA's ongoing effort to create ...
A System to See Everything, All the Time
Sure, we have spy satellites. But they're still limited -- you have to wait for them to pass over the area you want to photograph, for instance, and your targets might be doing their business indoors. No, if you want to see your enemy in real time, you need to get sci-fi on that shit.
So let's start off with their giant supervillain space blimp.
Above: When nerds get Defense Department contracts.
ISIS (Integrated Sensor Is Structure) is essentially an inflatable surveillance outpost. It hangs out in the upper atmosphere and has the ability to take high-res battlefield photos, even at night. And they will be able to get one up anywhere, any time -- it can be deployed within a matter of hours. Also, it's totally self-sustained, thanks to a solar energy and hydrogen fuel cell combo, and it doesn't require any kind of input from the ground. It can pretty much cruise around forever.
This balloon will outlive you.
And while that's fairly practical, another project called Combat Zones That See (CTS) is just as creepy as it sounds. Remember in The Dark Knight when Batman used Gotham's cellphones to try to track the Joker, and Morgan Freeman got really pissed off at him? Imagine something like that, only using every camera in an entire city instead of just cellphones. That's CTS.
Basically, it uses municipal and other outdoor video and a computerized logic routine to track objects from camera to camera. CTS is intended to be able to primarily track vehicles in war zones, but that hasn't stopped privacy hounds on the Internet from pointing out that it could easily be used to track American citizens right here. Kind of makes you want to never leave the house.
Oh, wait, they've got something for that, too. First is HIBR, or Harnessing Infrastructure for Building Reconnaissance. Basically, DARPA wants to be able to map the insides of buildings, using RF signals like a kind of sonar (wait, wasn't that also in The Dark Knight? What the fuck?). And yes, there's even speculation that the technology could be used for real-time tracking of people inside the building, with an early prototype that can see through up to a foot of concrete.
If that makes you want to retreat to your underground bunker in Montana, well, don't bother. DARPA is also working on GATE, or Gravity Anomaly for Tunnel Exposure, which can detect tunnels and underground bunkers. It's a sensor attached to low-flying aircraft that detects subtle changes in gravity and makes maps of the world underneath our own.
"Shit, I forgot to bring health potions."
Once more, in case all of this sounds like paranoid pie-in-the-sky bullshit from some agency trying to justify their funding, let us ask you this: Did you ever play the Modern Warfare games? And did you use the Javelin, that bazooka thing that lets you point at an enemy, then launch a smart missile that will chase his ass down no matter where he goes?
Congratulations, you have used DARPA technology -- the Javelin was created in a partnership between DARPA and Texas Instruments. Here's a video of a real one blowing a Russian tank right the fuck up:
But that's what we have now. For the future, DARPA has once more decided to turn that shit up a notch. And because they use the exact same naming conventions as a comic book supervillain organization, they call the prototype weapon MAHEM -- Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition. It is a freaking molten metal-filled missile fired out of an electromagnetic launcher.
Science is doing its best to turn every weapon you doodled in notebooks as a kid into a reality.
Basically, they launch the missile into the air and deploy the liquid-hot metal when it's at high velocity, then have the metal cool into a giant spear sharpened by aerodynamic forces. It's called a "self-forging penetrator" (which is a boner joke just waiting to happen). Essentially, it's like catapulting a T-1000 at someone.
"Everybody stand back."
It's meant to penetrate bunkers and other armored buildings and vehicles. Instead of a bunker buster, it's a bunker stabber.
As we established, whenever it's time to revolutionize combat, DARPA is there -- for instance, when America needed a new gun in Vietnam, DARPA and Colt teamed up to develop the M16 (and we've been using it ever since). But damn it, it's the 21st century. It's time to think bigger. That's why 10 years ago, DARPA began collaborating with Sarcos (now Raytheon) to develop a fucking combat exoskeleton.
Approved by SHIELD.
This isn't some drawing on a Powerpoint presentation, either -- they've got prototypes and everything, as you can see in this video starring a mildly awkward Agent Coulson from the most recent crop of Marvel films:
We've talked a little about real-life exoskeletons before, but unlike those, the XOS2 is intended for combat. Specifically, it "amplifies its user's strength 17 times, allowing them to easily lift 200 pounds several hundred times without tiring, or punch through 3 inches of wood with ease."
The only thing really holding it back at the moment is that it has to be plugged in to a power source -- it takes a lot of juice, and batteries are still too heavy. Don't worry, work on a cordless model (the XOS3) is already underway. And if DARPA is telling us it's underway, it means it almost certainly is fully functional and has killed several people by now.
But they're not stopping at exoskeletons. There's also the Z-Man project.
Stan Lee wins the world's most ridiculous bet.
It's a way for soldiers to scale buildings using the kinds of tiny gripping hairs and sticky goop found in climbing animals in nature. According to this budget sheet, it's already been tested using 25-foot walls and a soldier loaded down with 300 lbs. of equipment. Sadly, they haven't done any public demonstrations of the product. We can only assume it's because it requires each test subject to be repeatedly bitten by horrific, mutated spiders. Trust us, when that shit happens at DARPA, it's no accident.
Once a project hits the Crude Photoshop Stage, there's no stopping it.
Men Who Never Sleep
Of course, you can give the soldier all the fancy-ass equipment, weapons and battlefield surveillance you want, but at the end of the day, soldiers are still human and have all of humanity's frailties.
"If only they didn't need to poop ..."
It should come as no surprise by this point that DARPA is experimenting with chemicals, brains and medicine in an attempt to make soldiers that are as tireless as machines. Take, for example, the ultrasonic brain stimulation machines they're currently investing in, which work by pulsing tiny soundwaves directly into a subject's brain.
Of course, the downside is that it makes you look like a fucking idiot.
It's based on a concept called deep brain stimulation, which we currently use to treat Parkinson's. DARPA wants to use it to reprogram a soldier's brain to relieve battle stress and increase alertness during long periods without sleep. They're like tiny robot drill sergeants, right there in the soldier's helmet.
But the most potentially world-changing invention is a nasal spray they're developing called Orexin-A. Forget all that bullshit about stimulants or giant camouflage thermoses of coffee -- this stuff can make you feel like you just slept for eight hours, even when you totally didn't.
For ... whatever reasons you may have.
The drug is named after orexin, a hormone in your brain that tells you when you're feeling alert and refreshed (people who suffer from narcolepsy lack orexin, which is why they suddenly fall asleep for no reason). Snorting it doesn't wake you up -- it gives you the full-powered brain activity of someone coming off a good night's sleep.
The scientists who created it also claim it's completely non-addictive. And once this stuff gets smuggled out and sold on the streets, we're thinking approximately everyone on Earth will want it.
Thanks again, DARPA!
For more insane technology, check out 6 New Weapons That Are Making War Look Like a Cartoon. Or find out what would happen if we got our hands on some of Q's toys.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see what we're cooking up in the Cracked laboratory.
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