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From artificial mammal brains to prosthetics that feel like real limbs, the military's blue-sky researchers are aiming to bring man and machine closer than ever before.
You've probably never looked at a mammal's brain and thought "Gee, I wish I could yank that out of its skull and shrink it onto a chip." Nor have you likely gazed upon a colony of ants and remarked "wouldn't it be great if we could get spy drones to work together like that?"
That's because you don't work for the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, the Pentagon's way, way
out science and technology arm. Their annual budget request, which they made public on Thursday, reads like something out of lost a Philip K. Dick notepad.
DARPA, for the uninitiated, acts as the Pentagon's blue-sky research agency, always looking beyond the horizon for the technologies which will have the greatest impact in the future. If you've ever found yourself wondering, Joker-style, where the U.S. military gets those wonderful toys - like the Internet, global positioning systems and stealth bombers - chances are it started out as idea on a drawing board at DARPA.
This year the Obama administration requests nearly $3 billion DARPA for the research outfit - a nearly $136 million increase over the agency's last budget year
. Tucked away inside that $3 billion are a number of new and fascinating projects: ones to make faster, more cooperative unmanned systems, to mimic parts of the human body for smarter computers, and to even build prosthetics that feel like real hands.