The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) is researching computer networks that can organise and run themselves without human intervention, and dramatically increase available radio spectrum.
The organisation has been outlining its research goals to Congress in its 2009 Strategic Plan (PDF). One area is the design of a network infrastructure that can configure and maintain itself. It is initially intended for linking participants in battle, but could also have civilian uses.
"At the core of this concept are robust, secure and self-forming networks. These networks must be at least as reliable, available, secure and survivable as the weapons and forces they connect. They must distribute huge amounts of data quickly and precisely," says the report.
"But in order for these networks to realise their full potential, they must form, manage, defend and heal themselves, so they always function at the enormously high speeds that provide their advantages. This means that people can no longer be central to establishing, managing and administering them."
Some of the systems are in a very advanced stage, the agency reports. The Network Centric Radio System is already in operation, and can set up a self-healing ad hoc network gateway to link radio and network communications systems.
Darpa is also funding research into how to use existing spectrum more efficiently. Its neXt Generation Communications technology is being used to allocate spectrum dynamically, so that devices can use spectrum assigned to other uses when it is not being used. Tests have shown a tenfold increase in spectrum efficiency using this method.
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