RFT TechShop

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched a new programme to help small businesses, and individuals who have not previously worked with the federal government, develop new robotics capabilities.

Dubbed Robotics Fast Track (RFT), the programme aims to enable rapid, cost-effective development of new robotics capabilities designed to respond to, and even anticipate, quickly emerging warfighter requirements.

The programme will focus on the development of groundbreaking robotic hardware and software by funding clean-slate approaches, as well as creative adaptations of current resources, in less time and at a fraction of the cost typical of government-supported robotic development processes.

DARPA programme manager Mark Micire said: "We spend too much time creating three to four-year solutions for six-month problems.

"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.

"We’re eager to pioneer this new approach, which could lead to rapid, marked improvements in national security as a whole."

RFT competitors are required to develop prototype systems and proofs of concept over the next year, with each effort lasting six months to one year at an average cost of $150,000.

"We want this new generation of robotics innovators to see DARPA as a partner that can help them develop breakthrough technologies."

The programme 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.

DARPA is also seeking technologies that could apply to one or more key military operational domains, such as air, ground, maritime, and space, as well as mission areas including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, situational awareness, and humanitarian assistance / disaster response.

In addition, technologies that could apply to complementary non-military national security missions including law enforcement, firefighting and emergency response would be developed.

Several US government agencies including the army, navy, the department of homeland security, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have expressed interest in validating successful RFT projects and performers for use in their operations.

The agency has partnered with the Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF) to help non-traditional entities work with the federal government for the first time.

Image: The DARPA-funded RFT TechShop in Arlington, Virginia, US. Photo: courtesy of DARPA.