DARPA considers high-capacity military data storage based on molecular technology

U.S. military researchers are launching a new project to develop completely new kinds of data storage technologies that operate on the molecular and chemical level to handle vast streams of information from reconnaissance, electronic warfare, (EW), signals intelligence (SIGINT), persistent surveillance, and other data-intensive military applications.

May 16th, 2017

ARLINGTON, Va. - U.S. military researchers are launching a new project to develop completely new kinds of data storage technologies that operate on the molecular and chemical level to handle vast streams of information from reconnaissance, electronic warfare, (EW), signals intelligence (SIGINT), persistent surveillance, and other data-intensive military applications.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., have issued a formal solicitation (HR001117S0027) for the Molecular Informatics program, which seeks to develop and test completely new approaches to store and process information with molecules, DARPA officials say. This will require experts from chemistry, computer and information science, mathematics, and chemical and electrical engineering.

By manipulating properties such as structure, size, charge, and polarity, researchers may develop a vast design space enabling dense data representations and versatile computing concepts that operate outside of the traditional digital and logic- based approach.

Data storage and processing is central to U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) activities across areas like platform design and optimization, sensing, mission planning and logistics, and health care.

While current computational architectures remain essential, new complementary approaches are necessary to provide advanced capabilities as the complexity and volume of data grows, DARPA researchers say. Chemistry offers a yet-untapped rich palette of molecular diversity that could be harnessed for scalable information storage and processing.

Anticipated outcomes of the program include new approaches to represent information and execute computational operations in molecular form; scalable strategies to extract and process information from large molecular data stores; and molecular computing concepts that provide capabilities beyond our conventional computational architectures.

The program is trying to enable information processing directly on molecular data to achieve ultra-high information storage densities and inherent parallel processing. Researchers are interested in approaches that capitalize on complex molecular mixtures, non-natural polymers, and other advantages of molecular structures. Among the program's goals are developing data-storage capabilities beyond binary, digital encoding, and serial, logic-based computation. More conventional ideas based on molecular logic gates, biomolecular computing strategies, and those that are inherently not scalable are not part of the Molecular Informatics program.

DARPA officials say they plan to award several initial Molecular Informatics contracts. Participants will validate information encoding and processing in the first program phase, and then develop ways to integrate their capabilities and demonstrate processing directly on molecular data in the second program phase.

Proposed approaches ultimately must be scalable to encode and process large datasets. Performers will validate their molecular encoding concepts by demonstrating storage densities of at least 1,018 bytes per cubic millimeter with at least 1 gigabyte of data.

Molecular Informatics is a three-year program divided into an 18-month first phase and one 18-month optional second phase. By the end of the Molecular Informatics program, performers will project their ultimate capabilities to define future opportunities for molecules in information storage and processing.

Companies interested should upload full proposals no later than 12 June 2017 to DARPA online at https://baa.darpa.mil/. E-mail questions or concerns to Anne Fischer, the DARPA Molecular Informatics program manager at MolecularInformatics@darpa.mil.

More information is online at www.fbo.gov/spg/ODA/DARPA/CMO/HR001117S0027/listing.html.

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