The Pentagon’s biannual mad-science fair is no more. A Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency representative confirmed to IEEE Spectrum that the agency will no longer host its defense-technology showcase.
Bummer! The conferences were a favorite among defense and tech media: the latest-and-greatest in gear, gadgets and science, along with Pentagon-themed M&Ms and heaps of free swag (temporary tattoos, anyone?). The most recent DARPATech, in 2007, attracted 3,000 reporters, Pentagon officials and academics. And DARPA knows how to throw a party: The conference was held at a Marriott Hotel in Anaheim, California, across the street from Disneyland.
So why the sudden cancellation? Danger Room’s guess was on the money: At the last conference, we speculated that the best kept secret of DARPATech might be how much it costs.
The agency has certainly made changes to its budgetary priorities for 2011. They’ve transferred $200 million to “basic research,” and cut so-called “lower priority” weapons programs — and elaborate PR razzle-dazzle, too, it seems.
Of course, Danger Room loves to harp on DARPA’s more far-out ideas. But the agency’s still on the cutting edge. Some of “wild and crazy” concepts on display at the 2007 conference now sound familiar two-and-a-half years later: high-quality jet fuel processed from plants, machines that rapidly translate foreign speech, and synthetic biology that can create “kill proof” organisms.
If nothing else, DARPATech was an opportunity for the agency to continue to prove its relevance — or, sometimes, its unfortunate use of tax dollars to finance Q-Chew flavored vitamin candies.
So, no more fancy conferences, but a DARPA representative tells Danger Room that it’s “pursuing different venues and arrangements that attract new communities and ideas.” In January, the agency hosted an industry summit in D.C., to “discuss key globalization issues.” No M&Ms were provided. Somehow, that just doesn’t sound like the DARPA we know.