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DoD 2014.1 SBIR Solicitation

Agency: Department of Defense
Branch: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
Program/Year: SBIR / 2014
Solicitation Number: 2014.1
Release Date: November 20, 2013
Open Date: December 20, 2013
Close Date: January 22, 2014
SB141-001: Superconducting Nanowire Single-Photon Detectors
Description: OBJECTIVE: To develop nanowire single-photon detectors of shortwave infrared light with high system efficiency (>90%) and bandwidth (~1 GHz), high fabrication yield, and with compact (~5U) packaging and turnkey operation. DESCRIPTION: Single photon sensitive detectors have many applications including active and passive imaging, traditional and upcoming quantum optical communications, and quantum information processing. For quantum key distribution in fibers, for instance, the noise properties of the detectors limit the distance over which one can establish a secure key. Similarly, for 3D imaging via LADAR, longitudinal resolution is limited by the detector jitter while the detector sensitivity dictates the trade-off between illumination power and maximum range. Therefore, a high-bandwidth, high-sensitivity, compact and readily available photon-counting detector is a key technology for many future scientific developments and improved DoD application capabilities. Technologies for detecting single photons in the telecom band include semiconductor devices such as Geiger-mode InGaAs avalanche photodiodes (APDs) and superconducting devices like the transition edge sensor (TES). The InGaAs APDs can be operated at temperatures accessible via thermoelectric cooling, making them ideal for applications requiring compact photon-counting solutions. InGaAs APDs, however, are typically plagued by after-pulsing effects, making them ill-suited for applications requiring high duty-cycle and high-rate detection [1]. Extremely high efficiency and low dark counts can be achieved with superconducting TES detectors, but the rates are limited to less than 10 MHz and the systems must be operated in the 100 mK regime requiring an extensive cooling overhead [2]. New results in superconducting nanowire devices [3] have shown that high detection rates, low dark-count rates (DCRs), and high efficiency are all possible simultaneously with operating temperatures between 1 and 4 K. Despite these results, further performance improvements are needed. For example, detection efficiency (DE) above 90% and bandwidth (BW) approaching 1 GHz has yet to be achieved simultaneously. In addition, innovations leading to a reduction in the system footprint and improved operability will provide better accessibility of such technologies to the relevant scientific and engineering communities. The goal of this SBIR project is to further improve upon the current state-of-the-art in nanowire single-photon detector performance while advancing the supporting technologies to allow for a compact, turn-key commercial system. The final system should provide multiple (>2), independent single-pixel detectors with performance superior to all current commercially available options (DE>90%, BW~1GHz, DCR<1 Hz) in a ~5U 19 rack-mount package. To achieve these goals, work under this SBIR may include the following: efforts to increase fabrication yields through the use of new materials or fabrication techniques, new device designs to improve bandwidth and sensitivity, efforts to reduce system SWaP through compact, application-specific cooling systems, electronics, and packaging. PHASE I: Develop an initial concept design and model through computer simulations key elements of the proposed nanowire single-photon detection system. Demonstrate detector development capability by fabricating and testing system parts with performance indicative of a final system achieving the SBIR goals. Exhibit the feasibility of the approach through a laboratory demonstration of the critical system components. Phase I deliverables will include a design review including quantitative justification for the expected system performance and a report presenting the plans for Phase II. PHASE II: Construct and demonstrate the operation of a prototype system validating the performance metrics outlined in Phase I. The final system should be near turn-key and demonstrate all relevant performance characteristics including the SWaP. The Transition Readiness Level to be reached is 5: Component and/or bread-board validation in relevant environment. PHASE III: The detectors developed under this SBIR will have applications for the DoD which include secure communications and active stand-off imaging systems. The improved availability and SWaP will allow the use of these detectors in all relevant government labs and open the door to new fieldable systems. For example, low power, portable optical communication links exceeding RF system bandwidths by 10-100x may be possible using the technology developed under this SBIR [4,5]. The technology developed as a consequence of this effort will have applications which span both DoD and non-DoD areas. One application particularly suited to the private sector is the analysis of integrated circuits (IC). Failure analysis via optical means is known to provide specific information about the operation of individual IC elements. Higher speed and sensitivity of detection leads to higher throughput for such diagnostic systems. Additionally, the technology developed under this SBIR may be integrated into commercially manufactured DoD products such as LADAR and optical communication systems.
SB141-002: Tools for Advancing Neural Modulation
Description: This topic is eligible for the DARPA Direct to Phase II Pilot Program. Please see section 7.0 of the DARPA instructions for additional information. To be eligible, offerors are required to provide information demonstrating the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of a Phase I project. DARPA will not evaluate the offeror's related Phase II proposal where it determines that the offeror has failed to demonstrate the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of the Phase I project. Offerors must choose between submitting a Phase I proposal OR a Direct to Phase II proposal, and may not submit both for the same topic. OBJECTIVE: Improve the ability to interrogate and ultimately modulate the neural influences of inflammation and immune function by enabling the design of new discovery tools that probe the bioelectrical states of human cells. DESCRIPTION: Today's warfighter is subject to a wide range of physical demands that include significant musculoskeletal stress and injury related to heavy equipment and gear, high physical exertion in tactical environments, and potential exposure to a variety of known and emerging pathogens and toxins. These external stressors typically elicit acute and/or chronic inflammatory responses as the body initiates the healing process. Advances at the interface of the nervous and immune systems are critical to understanding inflammation and ultimately optimizing human performance via the reduction of inflammation. While the nervous and immune systems were previously thought to serve and act distinctly, a picture of an integrated communication and protective system is beginning to emerge (1). Recent developments in neurophysiology and immunology have begun to make the connection between neural reflexes and inflammation/immunity (2). Better descriptions of the ways in which peripheral neurons interact with immune cells may enable a more comprehensive understanding of inflammation, leading to potential therapies or approaches to speed healing. Additionally, the development of techniques to track and functionally manipulate ion flows in cells has started to elucidate the possible roles of voltage gradients in the regulation of cell behaviors (3). Bioelectrical cell signaling studies are already providing insights in developmental and cancer biology (4, 5), and further technological advancements in the field would enable the characterization of the neural/immune interface. Microelectrodes are powerful tools for quantitative, real-time, single- and multi-cell electrophysiology that require direct physical contact, which can limit their utility for various types of measurement. Additionally, they are limited in terms of spatial resolution and the ability to localize bioelectric activity and structure at the same time. Furthermore, electrical methods are often designed to measure events that exceed action potential thresholds, whilst important bioelectric activity can occur at voltage levels below action potential thresholds. Ideal tools for bioelectric measurements would offer sub-cellular resolution, high contrast, high dynamic range, and the ability to probe large fields of view with many cells in real-time. Current optical methods have advantages, yet also suffer in sensitivity (signal to noise) and require temporal averaging, thereby reducing temporal resolution. Thus, efforts to measure important bioelectric codes that guide cell fate and influence immunity still suffer from trade-offs in spatial, temporal, and voltage resolution, as well as the ability to record many cells and structures simultaneously. This solicitation calls for the development of new voltage- and/or field-sensitive dyes designed to probe the bioelectrical states of cells in neural as well as non-neural systems. Commonly available voltage dyes focus on calcium signaling and provide insight into fast processes (millisecond timescale). Certain bioelectrical interrogations may benefit from different chemistries and timescales, as well as the ability to detect sub-threshold activation of neurons and other cells, thereby requiring a finer voltage (and/or electric field) resolution. Additional challenges with current state-of-the-art voltage dyes include high cost for the volume of dye typically required for in vivo studies, low contrast, and low signal-to-noise ratios. Recent examples of methods with promise to improve performance for voltage and field sensing include fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) probes, voltage-sensitive proteins, and other nanoparticles such as quantum dots and NV-diamonds. Combined with new optical imaging approaches that offer unprecedented fields of view at sub-cellular resolution, successful advancements in probe technology will enable transition to academic, government, and commercial researchers to propel the field by offering, for example, lower cost, better stability, greater brightness, a broader range of absorption and emission wavelengths, higher voltage/field resolution, calibration simplicity, and increased specificity in targeting of cell regions. PHASE I: Design a new voltage-sensitive probe that addresses at least one of the following technical challenges for measuring bioelectrical states of cells in neural as well as non-neural systems: a) Improvement of voltage and/or electric field resolution to detect sub-threshold activation of neurons and other cells (e.g., approach the ability to report differences of several mV). b) Ability to probe at longer (seconds to minutes) or shorter (microseconds) timescales than currently available (milliseconds). c) Extension to multiple cell types and/or specific cell regions not currently accessible. Phase I deliverables will include a technical report detailing the experiments and results supporting the successful demonstration of a new voltage-sensitive probe that meets the selected technical challenge. Phase I deliverables will also include a Phase II transition plan for demonstrating sufficient reproducibility of the developed probe and potential research advancement to merit commercialization. The Phase II transition plan will include a description of the commercialization path, any barriers to market entry, and any identified early adoption partners. DIRECT TO PHASE II - Offerors interested in submitting a Direct to Phase II proposal in response to this topic must provide documentation to substantiate that the scientific and technical merit and feasibility described in the Phase I section of this topic has been met and describes the potential commercial applications. Documentation should include all relevant information including, but not limited to: technical reports, test data, prototype designs/models, and performance goals/results. Read and follow Section 7.0 of the DARPA Instructions. PHASE II: Seek to finalize and validate the voltage-sensitive probe developed in Phase I and demonstrate the utility beyond currently available probes to address the selected technical challenge. Additionally, establish and describe the market competitiveness of the new probe in the context of the combination of features that are desirable for a specific, defined application of the probe. This could include manufacture cost, probe stability, brightness, absorption and emission wavelength availability, sensitivity, and calibration simplicity. If successful, Phase II deliverables will include a detailed technical profile of the new voltage-sensitive probe that fully illustrates the advanced capabilities for the selected challenge, establishes the desirable parameters that validates the probe as a viable tool, and describes the commercialization path. PHASE III: The successful development of a new voltage-sensitive probe will enable a mechanistic understanding for modulating inflammation and immune function via neural interfaces. This capability is critical to understanding inflammation and its relation to human performance in order to address DoD challenges. The ultimate realization of the underlying technologies will advance healing and performance in the context of physical demands specific to the warfighter, including musculoskeletal stress and injury related to heavy equipment and gear, high physical exertion in tactical environments, and potential exposure to a variety of known and emerging pathogens and toxins. The successful development of a new voltage-sensitive probe will propel advances in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors with the end goal of understanding the bioelectrical underpinnings of inflammation and immunity to promote health and healing. Additionally, the ability to modulate the neural influences of inflammation and immune function has significant implications for a wide range of therapeutic and diagnostic applications in addition to healing and human performance. New probes are in demand that would have high impact for other areas of healthcare, including tumor detection, stem cell research, and regenerative medicine.
SB141-003: Compact Cryogenic Generator for Electronic Applications
Description: This topic is eligible for the DARPA Direct to Phase II Pilot Program. Please see section 7.0 of the DARPA instructions for additional information. To be eligible, offerors are required to provide information demonstrating the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of a Phase I project. DARPA will not evaluate the offeror's related Phase II proposal where it determines that the offeror has failed to demonstrate the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of the Phase I project. Offerors must choose between submitting a Phase I proposal OR a Direct to Phase II proposal, and may not submit both for the same topic. OBJECTIVE: The objective of this SBIR is to develop and demonstrate a compact cryogenic generator capable of producing 1 L/hr of liquid nitrogen for use in electronics and optics cryogenic cooling applications. The entire system should weigh no more than 5 kg, occupy no more than 0.1 m^3, require less than 0.75 kW to operate, and achieve a MTBF of at least 10^4 hours. DESCRIPTION: Thermal management is a key barrier to enhanced performance of many defense electronic and optical systems and improvements in heat removal and temperature control are needed to realize the full potential of emerging electronics and optics technologies. Use of a cryogenic coolant could lead to dramatic improvements in performance through higher efficiency, switching speed, sensitivity, and/or output power for respective components. For example, CMOS transistor switching speeds at 80K are approximately twice the room temperature values and the efficiency of solid state laser diodes can be increased from 65% at room temperature to 85% at -50C. The low liquid nitrogen production rate and large SWaP of current commercial cryogenic generators has prevented their broad use in defense electronic and optical systems. Yet, the delivery logistics and associated volume and weight limit the defense applications that can be met with stored liquid nitrogen. Thus, a compact, low SWaP cryogenic generator, capable of producing liquid nitrogen as needed in the field and/or on a mobile air, land, or sea platform, could find ready acceptance in the defense industry and in a broad range of commercial applications. PHASE I: Design, build, and successfully demonstrate the operation of a laboratory prototype cryogenic generator capable of generating 1 L/hr of liquid nitrogen that weighs less than 10 kg and requires less than 1.5 kW of input power. Required Phase I deliverables will include comprehensive device testing report, detailed design of the laboratory device, a description of the refrigeration cycle utilized in developing the generation capability and anticipated performance limits, and a comparison of the measured performance against the anticipated limits. DIRECT TO PHASE II - Offerors interested in submitting a Direct to Phase II proposal in response to this topic must provide documentation to substantiate that the scientific and technical merit and feasibility described in the Phase I section of this topic has been met and describes the potential commercial applications. Documentation should include all relevant information including, but not limited to: technical reports, test data, prototype designs/models, and performance goals/results. Read and follow Section 7.0 of the DARPA Instructions. PHASE II: Based on the performance achieved in the Phase I SBIR, design, build, and demonstrate the operation of a cryogenic generator capable of generating 1 L/hr of liquid nitrogen that weighs less than 5 kg, occupies less than 0.1 m^3, requires less than 0.75 kW of input power, has a predicted MTBF of 10^4 hours and is capable of being integrated into a selected platform. Conduct life-cycle and environmental testing, appropriate to a selected DoD platform and electronics application, including demonstration of at least 1000 hrs of continuous, failure-free operation in the appropriate pressure and temperature environment. Required Phase II deliverables will include a working cryogenic generator at the TRL 6 level, a trade space analysis examining how the device can be scaled up or scaled down depending on future applications, and a comparison, along with analysis, of the predicted and measured performance characteristics. PHASE III: The commercial/dual use applications would include utilizing this in high performance computer workstations, MRIs, SEMs, and other devices that require a steady supply of liquid nitrogen. For DoD purposes, this technology would be developed into the front end of a cryogenic cooling loop to be used for airborne, shipboard, or mobile electro-optics platforms, high performance computers, or other electronic or optical devices.
SB141-004: Portable Microwave Cold Atomic Clock
Description: This topic is eligible for the DARPA Direct to Phase II Pilot Program. Please see section 7.0 of the DARPA instructions for additional information. To be eligible, offerors are required to provide information demonstrating the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of a Phase I project. DARPA will not evaluate the offeror's related Phase II proposal where it determines that the offeror has failed to demonstrate the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of the Phase I project. Offerors must choose between submitting a Phase I proposal OR a Direct to Phase II proposal, and may not submit both for the same topic. OBJECTIVE: Develop a laser-cooled microwave atomic clock with small volume (<1 L) and weight (<1 kg), low power consumption (<5 W), and the stability (10^-12 at 1 s) of a primary atomic frequency standard. DESCRIPTION: Frequency and timing devices are essential components in modern military systems. The stability and accuracy of these devices impact the performance of communication, navigation, surveillance, and missile guidance systems. Atomic clocks are at the cores of many of these systems, either directly or via time-transfer from a master clock. By employing techniques used in current laboratory atomic clocks, military clocks can be improved by orders-of-magnitude. Such clocks will enable secure data routing, communication systems that are insensitive to jamming, higher resolution coherent radar, and more reliable and robust global positioning. Laser-cooled optical lattice atomic clocks are currently the world's most stable clocks, with stability below 10^-18 at 6 hours of averaging [1]. DARPA's QuASAR program aims to miniaturize and ruggedize such high-performance optical atomic clocks for deployment in the field [2]. While this work could enable widespread adoption of optical clock technology, many applications cannot tolerate the size, weight, and power (SWaP) of these first generation portable optical clocks (S>50 L, W>50 kg, P>150 W). DARPA's Chip Scale Atomic Clock (CSAC) program has developed miniature microwave atomic clocks with extremely low SWaP values (S ~ 16 cm^3, W ~ 35 g, P ~ 125 mW) and good short-term stability (10^-10 at 1 sec) [3]. However these clocks drift over long timescales making them unsuitable for many applications. The goal of this SBIR is to bridge the gap between these extremes by developing an atomic frequency standard with long term stability (<5x10^-15 at 1 day), approaching that of laboratory frequency standards such as the NIST F1 microwave Cs fountain clock [4] but with reasonable SWaP values (S<1 L, W<1 kg, P<5 W). To achieve these goals, this SBIR will combine aspects of the two extreme clock architectures mentioned above: laser cooling (as used in QuASAR optical clocks) and microwave hyperfine transitions (as used in CSAC). Alternative strategies will also be considered if sufficiently justified. Special attention will need to be focused on reducing the power requirements of the requisite lasers, microwave sources, and local oscillators. Furthermore, the final device should be robust to environmental fluctuations (e.g. temperature, magnetic field, vibration) in a relevant operating environment. PHASE I: Develop an initial design and model key elements of the proposed clock. The chosen work must be compatible with a fractional frequency stability of<10^-12 at 1 second averaging and<5x10^-15 for 1 day of averaging. It should have a size<1 L, weight<1 kg, and power consumption<5 W. Develop a detailed analysis of the predicted performance in a relevant environment accounting for expected environmental fluctuations such as temperature, magnetic field, and vibration fluctuations. Exhibit the feasibility of the approach through a laboratory demonstration of critical components. Phase I deliverables will include a design review including expected device performance and a report presenting the plans for Phase II. DIRECT TO PHASE II - Offerors interested in submitting a Direct to Phase II proposal in response to this topic must provide documentation to substantiate that the scientific and technical merit and feasibility described in the Phase I section of this topic has been met and describes the potential commercial applications. Documentation should include all relevant information including, but not limited to: technical reports, test data, prototype designs/models, and performance goals/results. Read and follow Section 7.0 of the DARPA Instructions. PHASE II: Construct and demonstrate a prototype device validating the device performance outlined in Phase I. The Transition Readiness Level to be reached is 5: Component and/or bread-board validation in relevant environment. PHASE III: The low SWaP of the clock developed in this program should enable widespread deployment of clocks with stability comparable to primary frequency standards. Such clocks could lead to more reliable and robust global positioning, synchronization and time-keeping in GPS-denied environments, secure data routing, communication systems that are insensitive to jamming, higher resolution coherent radar, and precision timekeeping. Potential commercial applications include precise synchronization of telecommunication networks for high-bandwidth communications, next-generation satellite atomic clocks for global positioning, and local clocks for very long-baseline interferometry.
SB141-005: Feature Based Localization and Navigation for Miniature Underwater Vehicles
Description: This topic is eligible for the DARPA Direct to Phase II Pilot Program. Please see section 7.0 of the DARPA instructions for additional information. To be eligible, offerors are required to provide information demonstrating the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of a Phase I project. DARPA will not evaluate the offeror's related Phase II proposal where it determines that the offeror has failed to demonstrate the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of the Phase I project. Offerors must choose between submitting a Phase I proposal OR a Direct to Phase II proposal, and may not submit both for the same topic. OBJECTIVE: Develop reliable feature based localization capabilities for miniature underwater vehicles in shallow water environments. The system would combine accurate localization and mapping capabilities by utilizing miniaturized techniques such as onboard imagery sensors and inertial measurement sensors, e.g. sonar(s), lidars, enhanced cameras, and gyros. The system should allow a small undersea vehicle to perform an extended mission and return very close to the point of launch without surfacing. The system should be able to recognize naturally occurring features; optionally, man-made passive"features"could be emplaced along the path of the vehicle, but would need to be included in the overall system weight budget. DESCRIPTION: One of the major challenges when deploying unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) is proper self-localization without available reference signals provided by, for example, Global Position System (GPS) or long baseline (LBL) acoustic positioning system. Present-day intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions often require the UUV to remain submerged for extended periods of time. Although ground velocity sensor systems such as Doppler Velocity Logs (DVLs) have been successfully designed and tested for large and medium scale vehicles, their deployment onboard small UUVs is often impractical for size, weight and power (SWaP) reasons. One of the smallest, currently available DVLs on the market weighs 6+ lbs [1], and thus accounts for a large portion of the weight budget for a small UUV. Additionally, although the accuracy of velocity measurements has rapidly improved over the last decade, an error accumulation within the navigation solution is still unavoidable for long-endurance ISR missions due to the lack of true position feedback. Recent advances in sonar technology have led to a significant reduction in hardware size and power consumption [2,3]. A trade- off for small sonar units exists in the relatively high frequency of the ping(s) leading to a limited maximum range of just a few hundred meters. However, for shallow water applications, sonar based navigation solutions may provide an alternative to and/or complement DVL technology by providing true position feedback. In particular, the detected range and bearing angle of features and/or landmarks within the field of view can be utilized to enhance the overall navigation solution via, for example, Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) [4,5]. PHASE I: Develop a preliminary system design concept combining software and hardware components for a complete navigation solution. Study overall feasibility, derive the anticipated system performance metrics, and expose potential limitations. Conduct system level modeling and analysis to provide a proof of concept. Show improvement in SWaP and or navigational accuracy over existing approaches and equipment. DIRECT TO PHASE II - Offerors interested in submitting a Direct to Phase II proposal in response to this topic must provide documentation to substantiate that the scientific and technical merit and feasibility described in the Phase I section of this topic has been met and describes the potential commercial applications. Documentation should include all relevant information including, but not limited to: technical reports, test data, prototype designs/models, and performance goals/results. Read and follow Section 7.0 of the DARPA Instructions. PHASE II: Design, build and test the prototype navigation system and demonstrate performance metrics in a realistic underwater environment. Analyze the anticipated integration effort into existing and future UUV platforms. PHASE III: Accurate navigation based on bottom features will minimize vehicle exposure on the surface and make the vehicle robust to GPS jamming. Accurate navigation is essential for a variety of unmanned undersea vehicle missions including ISR of harbors. A highly accurate underwater navigation system which is suitable for small UUVs would support a variety of commercial applications such as biological and chemical sampling, autonomous border or perimeter patrol, maintenance missions on underwater cables and pipelines, search and recovery operations, and natural resource surveys. Being able to go along the bottom and stay deep with a small affordable autonomous system would be a desirable commercial product.