Building a Robot in Your Garage? You Could Get a DARPA Contract in Less Than a Month


DARPA's new Robotics Fast Track effort aims to reduce the proposal-to-contract turnaround time to less than a month.

Technological advancements -- potentially critical to national security -- could be happening in garages and other "maker spaces" never to be discovered by the Defense Department.

That's what DOD is trying to avoid with a new pilot program aimed at getting small businesses and individuals to work on small robotics contracts. DOD's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency on Monday announced the Robotics Fast Track effort, which aims to reduce the proposal-to-contract turnaround time to less than a month for robotics technology.

The program's purview includes expansion and improvement of commercial off-the-shelf products, especially those that could improve the agility and speed of robotic technology for defense use. It also includes hardware and software that could be used for nonmilitary missions, such as firefighting and emergency response. 

“We spend too much time creating three- to four-year solutions for six-month problems,” Mark Micire, a DARPA program manager, said in a statement.

Robotics Fast Track was designed to present DARPA as a development partner, especially to the small business community that has "tended to fly under the radar of traditional federal agencies and commercial technology providers, which generally rely on multiyear, multimillion-dollar contracts for technology development.”

Each project could last between six months and a year, with an average cost of $150,000, according to DARPA. The agency is promoting the effort through the Open Source Robotics Foundation, a nonprofit focused on software development. 

OSRF is, in turn, working with federal contractor BIT Systems to help technologists navigate federal contracting. The groups are working on a website that can collect technology proposals, submit them to a review board, and streamline the vetting process, according to Brian Gerkey, chief executive and founder of OSRF.

During a call with reporters, officials declined to share estimates for the total budget for the program as it is still in the pilot stage. DARPA's goal in running this pilot, Micire said, is to “prove the technical prowess of this community".

(Image via Kirill__M/