7 DARPA Challenges We Want To See Next

DARPA wants help coming up with new Grand Challenges to expand the abilities of humans. So we made them a list.

DARPA, the military’s crazyscience wing, is known for many things–but one of our favorites is the Grand Challenge, which demonstrate the power of crowdsourcing and competitiveness to push technology forward. Now DARPA needs our help. What should the next Grand Challenge be about?


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Grand Challenges are ambitious but achievable, imagination-inspiring but believable, and they have to have results that are measurable–like sequencing the human genome, or landing a couple of people on the moon and returning them safely home. Past DARPA Grand Challenges have led to self-driving cars, translating messages on shredded paper, and more–soon, even humanoid robots that can work alongside human warfighters.

DARPA wants some help picking a new one, and there’s a formal request for proposals. So we went ahead and made some of our own. Visit the gallery to see them and add yours in the comments.

Kurzweil Grand Challenge

Challenge: Upload a working human brain to digital storage. Kurzweil himself said last week that the human brain’s storage limitations could be overcome by “basically expanding our brains into the cloud,” so this seems reasonable.

Muttation Grand Challenge

Challenge: Genetically modify animals to follow us into battle. We could use PopSci’s favorite land mammal, lemurs. Genetic modification of plants is advanced enough that scientists can pick for certain traits–and anyone with a dog knows that selective breeding is very effective at yielding smarter, more agile animals. Let’s select the highest-leaping lemur and give it some dog genes to instill it with obedience and unquestioning loyalty. Lemur muttations: What could possibly go wrong?

Nikola Tesla Memorial Grand Challenge

Challenge: Transmit energy over more than 200 miles wirelessly and without losing electricity. Want to know how realistic this actually is? The X PRIZE people are already thinking about it.

Bradbury Grand Challenge

Challenge: Put a colony on Mars. In some ways, this one might be the easiest to achieve first–surely we’d have plenty of volunteers, and we already have a trusty sky crane delivery system that can drop supplies on the surface. We’re close to having deep-space rockets that have enough power to launch us beyond Earth orbit, so it’s just a matter of building them and improving the landing system to handle more weight.

Teleportation Grand Challenge

Challenge: Let’s teleport something better than a couple photons. This field is getting more and more impressive all the time, with incredible distances and accuracy. So we can’t do live people yet, that’s fine–surely we can at least do snacks, or something.

Alchemy Grand Challenge

Challenge: Turn rocks into pure gold. It would be easier than going to asteroids to find it.

Susan Calvin Grand Challenge for Roboawareness

Challenge: Construct positronic brains, such that responses to given stimuli could be accurately predicted. We already have robots that seem incredibly, freakily lifelike, like the Geminoid seen here (with his human counterpart). But they don’t react to situations the way humans would. We want a robot that can recognize people and address them accordingly, based on previous interactions.