Emerging Technology

DARPA's micro-tech office returns to its roots

DARPA MTO

With bio-engineering projects now handled by a dedicated office, DARPA's Microsystems Technology Office is looking at spectrum use and extending Moore's Law.

After spinning out a number of biotechnology-based research programs, the Defense Department's Microsystems Technology Office is returning to its quest to advance cutting-edge communications and computing technologies.

Some of the Microsystems Technology Office's recent programs had been centered "at the intersection of biology and engineering," researching development of neural-interface and bio-manufacturing technologies, and other biological research-based efforts. But those are now overseen by the agency's new Biological Technologies Office.

MTO's to-do list

According to recent FedBizOps announcements, MTO's areas of current interest include the following topics:

  • Emerging MEMs technologies
  • Energy-efficient computing
  • Non-silicon electronics
  • Novel photonic devices
  • Quantum devices
  • Hardware assurance, reliability and validation
  • Low-volume microsystems manufacturing
  • Signal processing hardware
  • Low-power electronics
  • Thermal management
  • Advanced imaging architectures
  • Photonic & electronic interconnects
  • Microsystem design and CAD
  • Chip scale sensors
  • Microsystems for directed energy
  • Microsystems for precision navigation and timing
  • Microsystems for RF/optical transceivers

That clears the way for the MTO, a component of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has historically worked to develop compact microelectronic components such as microprocessors, microelectromechanical systems and photonic devices that have gone into advanced imaging and computing systems, to return to its roots.

DARPA also noted that the increasing commercialization of advanced technologies has made military systems more affordable, but has also allowed advanced electronics to proliferate in the global environment. That wider access, it said, has blunted the U.S. strategic advantage, and means a renewed focus on "leap-ahead technologies" is needed to keep the U.S. edge.

"MTO's goal is to enable a whole new class of technology-driven capabilities for national security, as opposed to creating a single end-point solution," said Bill Chappell, MTO's acting office director and deputy director in the statement.

The agency has issued a number of broad inquiries to industry in the last few months via FedBizOpps looking for help with a list of computing research areas.

The agency's May 28 statement said it also wants to explore how to more effectively use congested electromagnetic spectrum and address the end of Moore's Law (the exponential growth of computing power which has historically roughly doubled every two years) -- to find affordable computing and communications solutions in an increasingly globalized, but financially constrained environment.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer covering acquisition, procurement and homeland security. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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