DARPA: We'll pay you up to $130k to turn fridges and vacuums into deadly weapons

Developers, researchers, and other techies with ideas about turning normally benign objects into deadly weapons might want to contact Pentagon research agency DARPA.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

DARPA is aiming for proposals that can be taken from concept to working prototype within 90 days.

Image: DARPA

If you have a concept for a cheap, destructive, and innovative weapon made from any commercially available product, DARPA wants to hear from you.

With the threat of drone-borne improvized explosive devices (IEDs) looming, the Defense Science Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is launching a new program to uncover ideas for weapons made from off-the-shelf products, which could threaten its current military operations, equipment, or personnel.

The new program, called Improv, seeks proposals from US and non-US technical specialists, researchers, developers, and skilled hobbyists who have ideas for rapidly and cheaply prototyping these products.

DARPA is aiming for proposals that can be taken from concept to working prototype within 90 days, constructed with anything from mobile phones to 'domain-specific' technology such as construction, salvage, or surveying.

DARPA says it's particularly keen for proposals that use components from non-military specialities, such as transportation, construction, maritime, and communications.

The main focus is on the integration of products that can be easily acquired within existing local laws, although it is also encouraging new technology development.

The idea is to anticipate resourceful adversaries by having experts from a range of disciplines survey the tech marketplace "with an inventor's eye" and demonstrate how software, hardware, and processes, such as the rapid prototyping of components, can be used to create cheap but sophisticated military technologies.

"DARPA's mission is to create strategic surprise, and the agency primarily does so by pursuing radically innovative and even seemingly impossible technologies," said program manager John Main, who will oversee the new effort.

"Improv is being launched in recognition that strategic surprise can also come from more familiar technologies, adapted and applied in novel ways."

Successful applicants will be awarded up to $40,000 to conduct a feasibility study, up to $70,000 for prototype construction and up to $20,000 for prototype evaluation.

DARPA DSO is hosting a webcast for proposers on Tuesday, March 29, and Wednesday, March 30.

The agency will whittle down successful applicants based on an abstract of the proposal, describing the product, its components and the threat it poses to conventional military operations, equipment, or personnel. Abstracts are due by April 13.

Following a request for a full proposal, DARPA will select those worthy of receiving funding a feasibility test. Applicants will then be given a 75-day period to construct the product for shipment.

Based on a report submitted with the prototype by the applicant, DARPA will select which projects will proceed to an evaluation at a US government test facility and at that point may fund the development of countermeasures.

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