Of all the branches of the government one of the coolest places for a geek to work would have to be DARPA. This is the place where some of the coolest projects for robots and other high-tech gear and equipment come from. Things like the flying car for instance; I mean what geek doesn't want a flying car?
DARPA is also heavily into the research and development of robots for all sorts of uses in the military and civilian world. DARPA has now expanded its robotic program and is looking to build some new bots that can be used for defense and military activities and to help military personnel work more effectively.
One such robot is the creepy looking Big Dog you see pictured here. This bot has been around for a while now and is designed to help the solider carry things in the field. Soldiers are often limited in how far they can travel in any given time by the amount of supplies they can physically carry with them and bots like Big Dog. The new robot program is called the Maximum Mobility and Manipulation Program or M3 for short. The program is combining existing projects with a new effort to use engineering and better tools to make the bots more effective.
DARPA has contracted with different universities to work on the individual tracks within the program. Among the universities and research institutions working on the program are Carnegie Mellon University, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of California Santa Cruz, Raytheon, and Vecna Technologies. These institutions will be working with DARPA to design tools that can predict mobility and manipulation performance of robots.
Other research institutes and universities will work on the task of making cheaper and easier to build bots. These places include Cornell, Harvard, Tufts, and University of California, Berkeley. Even more universities will be working on other aspects for better controls for robots with dynamic gait selection, gait and body mass modulation, and dynamic control stability. DARPA farmed these tasks out to Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve, Georgia Tech Research Institute, iRobot, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tekrona, and University of California at Santa Barbara.
The ultimate goal is a change in how easy robots are to use and to build. The goal is to allow robots to work alongside soldiers in the field and during other relief efforts. DARPA projects that are part of the M3 program include the Legs Squad Support Platform (LS3) and others. There will be some completely new designs form the robotics program as well.