Microsystems Technologies Office: Creating A New Electronics Revolution For National Defense

MTO sets sights on developing next-generation microsystems to face evolving security challenges; plans meeting this summer with technical communities to discuss new focus areas

Since its inception in 1992, DARPA'S Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) has helped create and prevent strategic surprise through its investments in compact microelectronic components such as microprocessors, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), and photonic devices. MTO's revolutionary work applying these advanced capabilities in areas such as wide-band gap materials, phased array radars, high-energy lasers and infrared imaging have helped the United States establish and maintain technological superiority for more than two decades.

As widely successful as these initial investments have proven to be, a new set of challenges has emerged. For example, although commercialization of advanced technologies has made military systems more affordable, it has also proliferated global access to advanced electronics, reducing U.S. strategic advantage. This reality requires MTO to remain focused on developing new leap-ahead technologies to maintain America's military hi-tech edge, while the scientific landscape, national security threats, and military missions continue to evolve.

MTO has a history of being on the forefront of emerging technologies. Most recently, MTO initiated a number of programs at the intersection of biology and engineering. The first programs of DARPA's new Biological Technologies Office (BTO) came from MTO and the Defense Sciences Office (DSO).

"The success of a number of MTO and DSO biologically related programs provided the necessary foundation and motivation to start BTO," said Bill Chappell, MTO's acting office director and deputy director. The following programs have moved or will transition from MTO to BTO: Living Foundries, Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET), Dialysis-Like Therapeutics (DLT), and In Vivo Nanoplatforms (IVN). As MTO now moves away from direct biology programs, it will focus on the modern challenges in microsystems in the areas of electronics, photonics, computing and MEMS that could enable new capabilities and create new communities for breakthrough military systems.

Looking to the future, MTO seeks to explore several key challenge areas, which include effectively using the congested electromagnetic spectrum and addressing the end of Moore's Law, all while maintaining affordable solutions in today's fiscally constrained yet increasingly globalized environment.

"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 Chappell. "We have top-down perspectives informed by national defense needs, but create bottom-up solutions based on the opportunities that present themselves through technology. MTO intends to preserve and augment its critical position bridging between fundamental research and system integration."

To accomplish these goals, MTO will continue to leverage basic insights from academia and private industry, both domestically and abroad, to explore enabling technologies. Toward that end, MTO is currently seeking proposals in a number of key focus areas for its ongoing Office-Wide Broad Agency Announcement (DARPA-BAA-12-64) and additional program-specific BAAs are currently under development. These existing and pending efforts, informed by constant dialogue between MTO program managers and leaders in academia, industry, and government, are designed to keep DARPA and MTO on the leading edge of technology - a cornerstone of U.S. national security.

MTO is targeting a symposium in July located in the Washington, DC metro area.

"We're developing plans for an open discussion with various tech communities this summer to share ideas and further advance the vision of the office and its new thrust areas," Chappell said.

A Special Notice is forthcoming with further details of the event.

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