recommended that NASA have a DARPA-like entity within it. She suggested that the attendees think about NASA and about the potential there for a “think tank.” Such an effort within NASA would not always have to consider technology in terms of roadmaps or to base programs strictly on requirements. It could coexist within the larger NASA organization as an incubator for technology. She recalled Welby had spoken of using very sharp people at universities and in industry who are excited about working on tough and challenging problems. NASA would love to learn how DARPA uses such individuals and how DARPA is able to promote innovation.
Welby replied that he could not speak to the NASA structure, but that DARPA participated in technology roadmaps. He pointed out that a variety of work at the level of the Office of the Secretary of Defense related to technology roadmaps. The National Aerospace Initiative provides one such high-level, national technology roadmap. Roadmaps informed the agency’ s selection of projects, Welby said, but they did not drive it. DARPA tries to integrate its work with those overall national-level roadmaps, but only to the extent that they identify key gaps where additional work would be important. That work, however, comes about on its own merits and is not supported solely based on the technology’s inclusion in a roadmap. Federal agencies, including DARPA, often find themselves conforming to technology roadmaps rather than identifying gaps and finding technology opportunities. Welby also said that it was not necessarily a luxury to be ambivalent about requirements. DARPA is trying to reduce risk and work on particular products for immediate transition—something that individuals have difficulty understanding when they look at the agency.
John Mankins continued the discussion by recalling Welby’s remarks on the university community and the nontraditional technical community—small businesses, entrepreneurs, and high school students—in the context of the Grand Challenge activity. He brought up a line of discussion that NASA had engaged in internally: Universities or other research and development entities were not going to be interested unless there was a guarantee of long-term funding. Mankins also referred to Welby’s statements on the termination of DARPA work that is not performing well. He asked if such an environment caused universities to shy away from working with DARPA. Welby mentioned that the duration of DARPA projects tended to fit very well with the tenure of graduate students and was nicely matched to support their development, but it was not matched to the long-term collaborative style at universities that generates investment.
Welby went on to say that prizes did tend to offer real challenges to the technology community because DARPA did not directly pay for the technology development. It offers a prize and assumes that others will be interested in investing in an idea with the potential to win a prize. The Grand Challenge activity was a result of several years of thought on how to use novel mechanisms to inspire nontraditional innovation. The technical investment required for entry in the event was more or less affordable, but the technology challenges and that the prize itself were (and remain) the inspiration.
An attendee extended the question period by asking if the UCAV program was deemed a success for DARPA. Welby replied that to some extent he thought it was. Another attendee said that several pieces were missing in Welby’s discussion of the UCAV legacy. In 1996, the X-36, the first tailless fighter jet, was introduced. It was a major advancement in aeronautics. The program was jointly developed by McDonnell-Douglass and NASA Ames Research Center and flight tested at NASA Dryden Research