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Improv DARPA Program Pays Techies To Turn Household Items Into Weapons

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If you have a knack for turning common items and appliances such as toasters or washing machines into powerful and destructive weapons, then Uncle Sam wants you.

The U.S. military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking proposals from technical specialists, developers, skilled hobbyists, and researchers who can contribute innovative ideas and create prototypes for off-the-shelf devices and systems that can be used as weapons in the field.

The agency's new program called Improv is born in the midst of the growing threat of drone-borne improvized explosive devices (IEDs) which has the potential to jeopardize military equipment, operations, and personnel.

The military has faced countless improvised weapons in the hands of its adversaries over the years, and so Improv seeks to understand the "minds of would-be attackers" and see the ways that off-the-shelf tech could be modified to be used by the military against its foes.

Anyone from the U.S. and foreign individuals who want to join the program are free to reconfigure, combine or program commercially-available products in any way within the bounds of federal, state and local laws and regulations. In particular, the use of products, systems and components from non-military technical specialties such as construction, communications, transportation and maritime is of interest.

John Main, Improv program manager, said DARPA's mission is to create "strategic surprise." The agency does so by pursuing seemingly impossible and radically innovative tech, he said.

"Improv is being launched in recognition that strategic surprise can also come from more familiar technologies, adapted and applied in novel ways," said Main.

Main said DARPA looks at the world from the perspective of potential adversaries in order to predict or anticipate what they might do with available tech.

"In Improv we are reaching out to the full range of technical experts to involve them in a critical national security issue," added Main.

Improv has three phases: the first phase is to submit a plan for your off-the-shelf prototype. If DARPA is impressed, the agency will award you with $40,000. A smaller number of participants will be selected to push through phase two, where they will build their system or device with about $70,000 in funding.

The top candidates from phase two will go on to the last phase for a more in-depth analysis of their system or device, as well as a military demo of how your invention could threaten the military.

This "red-teaming" of potential IEDs and systems is focused on what can be accomplished within a tight deadline: within 90 days.

So, if you're ready to tinker with products and appliances, then you're all set for the job.

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