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Creating Inflections: Bill Chappell Lecture

On May 17, Dr. William Chappell visited the ElectroScience Laboratory at The Ohio State University, sharing how the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) capitalizes on turning simple questions into future technologies.

Chappell is director of DARPA's Microsystems Technology Office (MTO). Serving in this position since June 2014, he focused the office on three key thrusts important to national security. These thrusts include ensuring unfettered use of the electromagnetic spectrum, building an alternative business model for acquiring advanced Department of Defense  electronics that feature built-in trust, and developing circuit architectures for next-generation machine learning.

In his lecture, Chappell discussed how early failures in an autonomous car challenge led to groundbreaking innovation and kick-started the subsequent revolution in today’s automotive electronics industry.

These advances in autonomous systems applied to national defense, he said, as evidenced by the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel autonomous submarine hunter recently delivered to the U.S. Navy.

Chappell said other DARPA programs sought to address challenges in autonomous robotics as well as dynamic radio frequency spectrum management.

As a result of these DARPA programs, many companies began to bridge the gap between development and commercialization. One such company is Boston Dynamics, which is known for showcasing videos of the company’s robots adapting to challenging environments.

Chappell said current development projects at DARPA seek to address robotic servicing of satellites, future designs of electronics and materials, and other challenges. He said the ElectroScience Laboratory has a unique opportunity to lead the field in electromagnetics and tackle these issues.

Under Chappell’s leadership, MTO is striving to develop the basic underpinnings of computation and sensing needed for an effective, information-driven military. As society relies more and more on the digital realm each day, these technologies will also impact the world.