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DARPA RIDE to employ Automation and artificial intelligence to discover new Energetic materials and munitions are used across DoD

Energetic materials and munitions are used across DoD in mission critical applications such as rockets, missiles, ammunition, and pyrotechnic devices. In these applications, energetic materials and munitions must perform as designed to ensure success in both training and combat operations. Every time a gun fires, lead leaches into the air. A past study found that people who have been shooting a lot could have elevated lead levels. But so far, the use of lead in explosives has been inevitable. A scientific advancement could provide a comparable replacement for lead-based explosive materials found in ammunition, protecting soldiers and the environment from potential toxic effects.


Novel Energetic Materials consists of fundamental research programs to expand and validate physics-based models and experimental techniques to devise chemical formulations that will enable the design of novel insensitive high-energy propellants and explosives with tailored energy release for revolutionary Future Force lethality and survivability. This program supports demonstration of advanced energetic materials with ability to tune energy release for precision munition & counter-munition applications (e.g., propellants, explosives, thermobarics, multi-purpose warhead, APS).


Automation and artificial intelligence are revolutionizing discovery and production of functional molecules by enabling fast, reproducible experimentation and efficient property optimization. These capabilities have already made a significant impact on prevalent molecular classes, such as pharmaceuticals, but niche areas characterized by unique chemical space, limited literature precedence, and requirements for specialized experimental hardware have experienced relatively slow improvement. One such area, critical to national security, is energetics.


The DARPA Rational Integrated Design of Energetics (RIDE) program will develop tools that speed and systematize energetics research, enabling advanced development and implementation of automation and discovery tools to the energetics domain. Specifically, these will include: 1) safe, semi-automated experimental capabilities that integrate energetics ingredient synthesis with formulation development and testing; and 2) theoretical, experimental, and/or statistical methods that enable safe, accurate evaluation of key energetics properties at reduced scale.


RIDE is not focused on a particular class of energetic formulations, rather, maximum flexibility is desired. TA1 proposals should determine and describe the types of energetic materials that will be supported by their approach, and discuss ways the scope could be expanded as needed. For example, some classes of materials may require more manual steps than others.


Over the past year, DSO has initiated five new major programs that will help the U.S. win important technology races in hypersonics, space, autonomy, energetics, and stabilization. The RIDE program will leverage recent DARPA investments in automation and artificial intelligence to significantly accelerate and systematize energetics research. Given that many of today’s state-of-the-art energetic materials are assembled from materials discovered nearly 100 years ago, we are excited to see what this new approach to energetics discovery will produce , said Dr. Valerie Browning Director, DSO.



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