DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office head Geoffrey Ling on Exoskeleton Tech and their new Exo Planetary Studies research

Excerpt from June 11, 2015 Nature podcast where Sara Readron interviews DARPA’s current Biological Technologies Office about Exoskeleton Tech and their new Exo Planetary Studies research Full podcast link: http://www.nature.com/nature/podcast/in…x-2015-06-11.html Further Nature story on DARPA BiT The Pentagon’s gamble on brain implants, bionic limbs and combat exoskeletons [www.nature.com/news/the-pentagon…skeletons-1.17726] DARPA Biological Technologies Office [www.darpa.mil/about-us/offices/bto] yes DARPA […]

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“Come with me if you want to spaaace”

This image shows NASA’s Valkyrie (R5) robot, which is NASA’s newest humanoid robot and was built to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

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What Warner meant when he called the Taj a “Burner bar” was that it operated, in part, according to a barter system. One of the standing rules at the guesthouse was that any expat could exchange information for booze. In a war zone where so many different agencies, companies, and contractors passed like wary ships in the night, one of the biggest problems was that no one could coordinate knowledge. No one, that is, except maybe a bartender. Under the banner of “Beer for Data,” Warner had turned the Taj into a major clearinghouse for information in Jalalabad. It accumulated by the terabyte on his hard drives: construction plans, hydrology surveys, health-clinic locations, election polling sites, names of farmers, number of trees on their farms, number of acres. What Warner collected he then passed on to the United Nations, the Pentagon, and anyone else who asked for it.

Warner let on that there was a lot more to tell, and that he was making a trip into the field a couple days later. But he offered no invitation, and I went to bed, leaving him at his laptop.

And that was how I met Dr. Dave: a former U.S. Army drill instructor, self-avowed “hippie doctor,” PhD neuroscientist, technotopian idealist, dedicated Burner, dabbler in psychedelics, insatiable meddler, and (weirdest of all) defense contractor. Unlike the guys who had come to the war mainly for the hazard pay, Warner seemed genuinely bent on something far grander—redeeming the debacle of Afghanistan through the gospel of open information.

Using various pots of money, Warner had built dozens of these solar-powered computer labs around the province. Some, like this one, didn’t have an Internet connection—at least not yet—and were, in Warner’s mind, just stepping stones to the computer literacy that would one day make these kids potential sources of crowdsourced information. Other computer labs, closer to town, had Internet pumped in from the antennae and satellite dishes on the roof of the Taj. In those labs, Warner and his team were teaching Afghans how to use OpenStreetMap, a Web-based platform that allows users to add fine-grained local information to existing satellite maps. (As a result, the OpenStreetMap page for Jalalabad is exquisite.)
Warner was doing it on the cheap—no security details, no armored vehicles—stretching his DARPA funding and his own bank account fairly far. “For the price of two expat security contractors,” he boasted, “I can put Internet to 50,000 students.”

I was just beginning to get used to his way of talking, which alternated between turgid military jargon and gonzo flights of fancy. (“I’m dismantling the Death Star,” he told me later, “to build solar ovens for the Ewoks.”) Ultimately, what he wanted to do was help the Department of Defense and all its scattered parts—a hulking war apparatus he derisively called “The Machine”—help itself. “I’ve foolishly created my own counterinsurgency,” he said.

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