Wednesday, May 27, 2015

DARPA Robots at MIT

"The MIT students are among the 25 teams that will compete in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Robotics Challenge in California in June, each vying for the top spot, reserved for the most dextrous and most independent rescue robot made. DARPA has warned the teams that the final round of the contest will be tough, and that even the most prepared teams should brace for failures and missteps."

How long before synthetic humans are no longer just a TV show?


"Raytheon seeking a super missile; Raytheon wins a $20m Pentagon order to show an unstoppable weapon far faster than the speed of sound is feasible" by Hiawatha Bray Globe Staff  May 27, 2015

Waltham missile maker Raytheon Co. has just taken on a tall order from the Department of Defense: Create a cruise missile that could travel more than five times the speed of sound.

Raytheon is getting $20 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the Pentagon branch best known for having sponsored the invention of the Internet.

Al Gore said he discovered that.

This time, the agency wants a technology that weapons designers have dreamed of since the 1930s — a hypersonic missile that travels so fast there’s virtually no defense against it.

Details of the project are closely guarded secrets; DARPA and Raytheon declined to provide specifics. But similar efforts have been underway for decades. The German scientist Eugen Sanger worked on hypersonic cruise missiles during the 1930s, but the effort was abandoned as impractical.

Then he must have been a Nazi, and did the U.S. Paperclip him after the war? 

Today, though, Russia, China and India are all making big investments in hypersonic hardware. The United States is working on several similar projects, including the Army’s land-based Advanced Hypersonic Weapon and the X-51 WaveRider being developed by the Air Force.

As its name implies, the Raytheon-DARPA Tactical Boost Glide system would travel shorter distances, compared to the strategic missiles that can cover tens of thousands of miles. Launched from a conventional aircraft, the missile’s rocket motor would thrust it to the outer layer of the planet’s atmosphere at speeds faster than Mach 5 — more than 3,800 miles per hour. The booster would then fall away and the hypersonic missile would skim along the surface of the atmosphere before plunging down onto its target.

Unlike a typical ballistic missile, the boost glide weapon could be steered in flight, meaning operators could redirect it to a new target.

Amy Woolf, a specialist in nuclear weapons policy at the Congressional Research Service, noted the $20 million Raytheon contract was a relatively small job focused only on the feasibility of the technology. But just proving the theory could work would be a major breakthrough for Raytheon and the US military. “The problem is we have yet to get a boost glide system to work,” Woolf said.

Building a hypersonic missile has proven ferociously difficult. It needs special materials to withstand the immense heat and stress of hypersonic flight, and control systems that can precisely aim an object moving far faster than a bullet.

Still, nobody doubts the problems will eventually be solved. But a bigger question remains for US military planners: What’s it for?

“The US has never articulated a clear doctrine for these weapons, a clear reason why they want them,” said James Acton, codirector of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“People who develop technology kind of take the attitude [of] develop the weapon and then work out what to use it for.”

For example, some planners have theorized about using hypersonic weapons to nail terrorist targets. But today’s slow-flying drones have already carried out many successful attacks. Woolf said it is unlikely faster missiles would offer much of an advantage over drones.

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Hypersonic missiles could also defeat a growing threat to the Navy: advanced missiles developed by China to sink naval carriers and shoot down their aircraft. Acton said these systems could give China control of the South China Sea. But US hypersonic missiles, Acton said, could take out those systems before China could respond.

China, though, is also developing hypersonic missiles. It’s shaping up as a new arms race, fought in miles per hour instead of megatons.


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