What Weapons Want: Q&A With DARPA's Microsystems Master, Greg Kovacs

The director of DARPA's Microsystems Technology Office, discusses his section's coolest projects and life after Tony Tether

6 min read

In 2008, Tony Tether, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), tapped Stanford M.D. and electrical engineer Gregory T.A. Kovacs to lead DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office (MTO). The MTO funds engineering in five general areas: electronics, photonics, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), computer architectures, and algorithms. But as Kovacs has repeatedly said, the role of DARPA is more about integrating these units into interdisciplinary projects. Take, for example, the Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) program. Researchers funded under that program are tasked with the creation of moths or other insects that have electronic controls and energy-harvesting devices implanted inside them, making them self-powered remote-controlled spies.

Other projects are more pure electronics engineering, such as the Trust in Integrated Circuits (TIC) program, which aims to verify the contents of any microchip assembled offshore. This is a punishing task, as only a few hundred transistors out of 2 billion could theoretically wreak havoc; finding them is a classic needle-in-a-haystack problem.

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Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
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A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar
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You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

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