DARPA Pursues Security As Polar Ice Caps Melt - InformationWeek
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DARPA Pursues Security As Polar Ice Caps Melt

Anticipating increased shipping in Arctic seaways, agency looks for new methods--such as underwater sensors--to make the harsh region safe for human activities.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) is exploring new sensor technology to remotely monitor the Arctic region in anticipation of more shipping activity in the area as polar ice caps continue to melt.

Through the Assured Arctic Awareness (AAA) program, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking into environmentally-friendly ways to monitor the Arctic region both above and below the ice without the need for more expensive means of monitoring--such as aircraft, satellites, or manned ships and submarines--of the largely remote region, according to the agency.

Although the melting of the polar ice caps is seen as negative due to its ecological and environmental ramifications, it also will open up the Arctic region to more shipping activity and give people more access to the region.

This activity will create more of a need to ensure the area remains stable for maritime activities through regional monitoring, DARPA said in its announcement of the program posted on FedBizOpps.gov.

[ DARPA 'cheetah' advances over-land military capabilities. See DARPA Robot Sprints To Speed Record. ]

Even with the retreating of polar ice, the climate of the Arctic region--which covers a vast geographical area that is accessible but difficult to monitor cost effectively--will remain harsh.

DARPA is looking for new ideas in monitoring and sensoring that will leverage but not harm the unique characteristics of environment, a DARPA official said in a statement.

"The goal is to identify one or two compelling system concepts enabled by new technologies and insights gained from the effort," said DARPA program manager Andy Coon. "Compelling system concepts are those that enhance future maritime security in a cost-effective and responsible manner."

The agency specifically is looking for technologies in two technical areas: under-ice awareness and surface awareness. Technologies in the first category should use properties unique to the region, such as under-ice acoustic propagation and noise, to allow for unmanned autonomous systems like those used in anti-submarine warfare to find and hold targets underwater, the agency said.

Technologies developed for the surface should use arctic characteristics such as ice distributions and narrow shipping passageways to keep surface crafts in the marginal ice zone and summer ice-free waters, according to DARPA.

"For example, those with experience in unattended ground or maritime sensors, low-temperature electronics, distributed remote sensing technologies, or autonomous operations could contribute to the development of novel technology solutions applicable to the Arctic," the agency said.

DARPA is eyeing multiple awards for the program that are expected to be in the range of $250,000 to $500,000 per award for a six-to-nine month effort. This excludes testing in the Arctic, which DARPA will pay for, the agency said.

Potential solutions will be tested in the region during at least two separate field tests, the agency said.

DARPA will hold an AAA proposers day March 30 to identify possible proposals for the program.

InformationWeek's 2012 Government IT Innovators program will feature the most innovative government IT organizations in the 2012 InformationWeek 500 issue and on InformationWeek.com. Does your organization have what it takes? The nomination period for? 2012 Government IT Innovators closes April 27.?

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