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DARPA exhibit offers rare glimpse at a secretive agency

The show hopes to entice kids to get into STEM and adults to work for the defense agency.
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DARPA's has been responsible for countless advancements in cutting-edge technologies since its founding in 1958. During a conference call on Wednesday, DARPA's Deputy director Steve Walker announced that it is partnering with Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry to host a massive exhibit that documents the agency's six decades of accomplishments.

ATLAS, the 6-foot soon-to-be-spacefaring robot, will welcome visitors to the 5,000 square foot exhibit, which runs from May 5th through September 5th. The DEKA prosthetic arm and Spot, the robo-dog will both also be on display. It will also showcase the agency's other wacky inventions -- including man-made lightning, UAVs and gene editing techniques -- along a 100 foot interactive timeline. There will even be a large-scale model of the Navy's new autonomous Sea Hunter.

The exhibit will also feature a number of interactive activities. Visitors will be able to build virtual robots while learning the basic theories of robotics. They can get up close with the neuroelectrode arrays that enable amputees to mind control their prosthetics and the microelectric chips that could bring about revolutionary AI systems. They'll also be able to inspect the army's new super-powered exosuits, though they won't be allowed to wear it themselves. Kids can also explore the inside of a cell phone to see all the bits and pieces that wouldn't exist had DARPA not developed them.

But this isn't just some vanity exhibit extolling the agency's lengthy list of accomplishments. For one, DARPA hopes that this exhibit will get some of the 300,000 or so school kids that visit the CMSI every year interested in STEM careers. It's also to get their STEM-trained parents to consider a stint in public service, working with DARPA.

"DARPA's unchanging mission has been to prevent technological surprise," Walker said during a teleconference on Wednesday. "The nature of our job demands that we reach out to the best ad brightest in a wide range of fields, not just engineering but also physics, aeronautics, chemistry, cyber and biology. Our needs are endless because the DARPA model is to have these experts join up for 3 to 5 years as program managers to do something totally game-changing and then go back to their jobs -- either in academia or industry. We're constantly looking for superstars." Both Walker and DARPA's Director himself will be on hand for the opening tomorrow and able to speak to folks interested in working for the agency.

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