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DARPA Wants Boffins to Turn Household Items into Weapons

US government agency DARPA is reaching out to Americans to crowdsource ideas on how to turn relatively benign, off-the-shelf products into ones that can pose serious security risks.

The ‘Improv’ initiative is all about being able to better anticipate security threats from unlikely sources, such as components from the transportation, construction, agricultural and other commercial sectors.

The emphasis is on speed and low cost, with applicants tasked with creating sophisticated military-grade technologies from commercially available products, open source code and “components created through rapid prototyping.”

“DARPA often looks at the world from the point of view of our potential adversaries to predict what they might do with available technology,” said program manager John Main, in a statement.

“Historically we did this by pulling together a small group of technical experts, but the easy availability in today’s world of an enormous range of powerful technologies means that any group of experts only covers a small slice of the available possibilities. In Improv we are reaching out to the full range of technical experts to involve them in a critical national security issue.”

These experts could come from an IT, biology, engineering or other background, but don’t necessarily have to have professional qualifications.

DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – said it will assess ideas on a case-by-case basis and then decide on what level of support to offer.

Winning applicants will be expected to develop a working prototype within 90 days. A webinar for those who want to find out more will be held on 29 and 30 March.

“DARPA’s mission is to create strategic surprise, and the agency primarily does so by pursuing radically innovative and even seemingly impossible technologies,” said Main. “Improv is being launched in recognition that strategic surprise can also come from more familiar technologies, adapted and applied in novel ways.”

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