A lot of things you use on a daily basis have their roots in DARPA projects that were intended for military purposes. Sharon Weinberger, the author of the book “The Imagineers of War,” describes a few of these inventions that you might not have been aware of, like the Roomba.
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Following is a transcript of the video:
So many of the things we use every day is linked to DARPA.
Sort of the more common example today is the Siri app on the iPhone. That grew directly out of a DARPA-funded project that wasn’t picked up by the military. The people working on it spun it off as an independent company, and it was bought by Apple and incorporated into the iPhone.
I think, sort of, what made DARPA’s reputation was computer networking. DARPA created the ARPANET, which was the first network of computers, which was later transitioned to the civilian internet. And that really cemented DARPA’s reputation as sort of an innovation agency or genius factory.
Other things that can be linked back to DARPA: GPS. So this is a tricky one. There’s a lot of times that DARPA claims GPS as its invention. It’s a little bit more complicated than that. DARPA, for a while, funded the predecessor to GPS called the Transit satellite. But DARPA did not invent GPS. But it gets a little bit of credit there.
iRobot, the company that makes the Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner, basically exists today, and its underlying technology exists because of DARPA funding. So DARPA didn’t specifically fund the Roomba, but it funded the company and its military work, which then eventually became the Roomba. What DARPA was interested in, and one of the things that got military funding, was the PackBot, which is made by iRobot, the same people who make Roomba, which was used for bomb disposal.
I think the most important commercial innovation that is emerging today are autonomous cars, self-driving cars that we’re just now seeing come into their own. That’s linked directly back, not just to decades of DARPA funding in robotics, which DARPA did, but also, most importantly, or at least importantly to the mid-2000s, when DARPA started a series of robotic car races called the Grand Challenge. And that really is what jump-started the autonomous care industry.
DARPA doesn’t make money off of the products it funds. It’s a little bit complicated, especially when dealing with patents and intellectual property. What DARPA gets, and what DARPA hopes to get, is products that will serve the military, that can be used by the military. But if a company wants to spin it off into the commercial realm, it it can and it does.