22 Aug 2020
DARPA is the US’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, formerly known as ARPA.
For sixty years, DARPA has held to a singular and enduring mission: to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security. DARPA reaches for transformational change instead of incremental advances.
The genesis of DARPA dates back to the launch of Sputnik in 1957, and a commitment by the United States that, from that time forward, it would be the initiator and not the victim of strategic technological surprises. Working with innovators inside and outside of government, DARPA has repeatedly delivered on that mission, transforming revolutionary concepts and even seeming impossibilities into practical capabilities. The ultimate results have included not only game-changing military capabilities such as precision weapons and stealth technology, but also such icons of modern civilian society such as the Internet, automated voice recognition and language translation, and Global Positioning System receivers small enough to embed in myriad consumer devices.
DARPA operates on the principle that generating big rewards requires taking big risks. But how does the Agency determine which risks are worth taking?
George H. Heilmeier, a former DARPA director (1975-1977), crafted a set of questions known as the “Heilmeier Catechism” to help Agency officials think through and evaluate proposed research programs.
- What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
- How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
- What is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
- Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
- What are the risks?
- How much will it cost?
- How long will it take?
- What are the mid-term and final “exams” to check for success?