DARPA invests $3.5M in TechShop to create pop-up weapons factories

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A fundamental tenet of the modern maker movement is that everyone wants to build something. Especially the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Today DARPA took a break from funding next-generation weapons systems, advanced hypersonic aircraft, and frickin’ laser beams to put $3.5 million into TechShop, the paradise for “inventors, makers, hackers, tinkerers, artists … and anyone else who wants to be able to make things that they dream up but don’t have the tools, space or skills.” TechShop currently operates 5 locations around the US, giving members access to a vast array of tools, building space, and lessons.

In authentic military tradition, the project has a funky acronym: iFAB. The Instant Foundry Adaptive through Bits partnership between TechShop, DARPA, and the Department of Veteran Affairs is intended to “create a foundry to rapidly design and reconfigure manufacturing capabilities to support the fabrication of a wide array of military vehicles.”

In other words, DARPA wants to create insta-factories for weapons systems and military vehicles. Think a pop-up shop that follows the military through a battle zone: instead of new equipment manufacturing, repairs, and upgrades taking place thousands of miles away, military hardware could be built and serviced near the war zone and returned to battle within days.

“Supporting initiatives that expand the number and diversity of talent contributing to the nation’s defense is critical to DARPA’s efforts in advanced manufacturing,” DARPA director Kaigham Gabriel said in a statement. “The resources made available through this effort enables more people to ‘make,’—the DNA of creativity and innovation.”

According to BusinessWeek, the funding will enable TechShop to open two new locations in Washington, DC, and Pittsburgh, joining locations already in Menlo Park, Raleigh, San Francisco, San Jose, and Detroit.

The Veteran Affairs also gains from the partnership. TechShop announced that, as part of the partnership, 2000 one-year memberships which typically cost over $1000 each, will be made available to veterans. Jonah Czerwinski, director of the VA’s Center for Innovation, said that iFAB supports the VA’s goal of “finding new ways of providing veterans with resources that help them serve an important role in America’s economy.”

Photo credit: cell105/Flickr