Your Life on the Internet: Thank DARPA, Not Gore

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is one of the most innovative scientific research organizations in the world. Originally founded as the Advanced Research Projects Agency, it has been known alternately as ARPA and DARPA throughout its history and is currently referred as DARPA. While its mission is to develop scientific and military tools to help protect the interests of the U.S. at home and abroad, some of its most amazing achievements offer equal benefits for civilians and have shaped the course of modern society. Here are five of the most important and influential discoveries and developments arising from DARPA research.

The Internet

While Al Gore can rightly claim some of the credit for funding research into what would eventually be known as the Internet, DARPA was on the front lines of developing the infrastructure necessary to manage packet-switching tasks necessary to ensure full connectivity. The ARPANET represented the earliest backbone of the Internet and was the first network ever to implement the TCP/IP communications protocols now standard throughout the online world. Additionally, DARPA was responsible for funding the development of NLS, an innovative system that incorporated hypertext links and windowed programs well before these types of interfaces were available to consumers.

Global Positioning Systems

In 1959, ARPA was integrally involved in a joint effort with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory to create the NavSat program known as TRANSIT. This satellite positioning system allowed more accurate navigation for submarines and surface ships and paved the way for the advanced systems on board many privately owned vehicles today. TRANSIT was the precursor to a host of GPS services that allow greater convenience and safety for drivers in both the military and civilian environments.

Bionic Suits

Although these technologically advanced suits are still years away from completion, advances made by DARPA researchers have already allowed greater mobility for patients in rehabilitation for serious injuries and for those coping with chronic arthritis and other debilitating conditions. It is hoped that bionic technologies can provide added support for soldiers in the field in managing heavy packs and maintaining their stamina even under grueling physical conditions.

Virtual Reality

In 1987, DARPA created a workable combat simulator for use in training military personnel to survive and perform their duties in similar real-world situations. SIMNET used parallel processing technologies and allowed networked connections from multiple users to create the most realistic simulations possible for various scenarios. The technologies used to create SIMNET have been repurposed for video games and other combat simulations and continue to retain relevance today.

Driverless Cars

Funding by DARPA has allowed automakers and researchers to develop a number of cutting-edge technologies designed to make cars and trucks safer on the road. The Autonomous Land Vehicle project was completed in the 1980s and allowed a robotic vehicle to travel at up to 19 miles per hour by the use of sensors and computer programs designed to help it avoid obstacles placed in its path. Similar sensors are already in use in civilian vehicles and provide early warning and automatic braking to help drivers avoid collisions on the road.

Each of these DARPA projects originated to fulfill military requirements and to keep soldiers safer, more connected and more effective on the battlefield. These technological developments, however, have produced significant benefits for civilians and military members alike.