The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an arm of the Department of Defense. Its mission is to manage research projects. The projects aren't basic research, however. DARPA characterizes them as high-risk and high-reward. That means that a lot of the research projects and new developments won't pan out. The few that do, however, will dramatically advance technology and missions for the military.
The founding of DARPA was spurred by the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik. The Department of Defense was worried that the Soviet Union and other hostile nations were developing weapons technology more advanced than that of the U.S. In 1958, DARPA was created with the task of making sure that the United States always has a technological edge over adversaries.
DARPA is a unique government agency. To make sure that it's always on the cutting edge, the agency is small. It operates outside of the military's traditional research and development agencies and reports directly to the Secretary of Defense. That eliminates a lot of bureaucracy and allows the agency to act fast on the most promising research. One way that DARPA does this is by using contests and challenges to encourage innovation. Starting in 2004, the Urban Challenge has been one of its most famous contests. The Urban Challenge has gotten a lot of press, not only because the technology has many military and civilian applications, but also because it's really, really cool
So who won the latest Urban Challenge, and how did the winner do it? Go to the next page to find out.