The Department of Defense has launched a new pilot program aimed at funding academia-industry research partnerships to meet technological challenges related to power beaming, highly‐maneuverable UAVs, soft active composites and metamaterial-based antennas.

The new Defense Enterprise Science Initiative (DESI), announced Wednesday, will provide $6 million in funding to four programs of university and industry partners meant to conduct use-inspired basic research over two years.Aerial view of the Pentagon, Arlington, VA

Each partnership will receive a $1.5 million grant, and have the option to receive a third year of funding from DoD. Proposals to participate in DESI are being accepted through Feb. 28.

“Projects funded by DESI will bring together university and industry teams with the aim of discovering novel solutions to challenging defense and national security problems. Through these projects, DESI aims to accelerate the impact of basic research results on defense capabilities, inform existing or future acquisition programs, and support sustainable collaboration between the nation’s universities and the private sector,” DoD wrote in a statement.

Industry participants are encouraged to seek partnerships with university teams and collaborate on research for the DESI projects, with the hope of developing end-use applications.

Prospective DESI participants received four recommended research topics DoD officials hope will help address current technological gaps.

The programs hopes to find new methods for powering autonomous capabilities, including drones, by wireless power transmission and “power beaming.”

DoD is seeking scalable capabilities needed to direct and convert power for rapidly deployed autonomous technologies. Specifically, DESI participants are suggested to focus on exploring devices for beam emission with increased efficiency, adaptive optics and power modalities able to operate in inclement environments.

Grants will also be considered for research into more highly-maneuverable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). DoD officials emphasized development of survivability and stealth over traditional quadcopter or fixed-wing designs.

To meet future department-wide capability needs, including smaller robotic platforms, adaptive exoskeletons and all-terrain autonomous mobility, participants are requested to explore soft active composites.

“Progress towards these capabilities, however, has been fragmented with marked advances in path planning, coordination, and control; but significantly less advancement in the efficiency of mobility across robot length scales,” DoD officials wrote. “A new transdisciplinary approach to material design is needed to juxtaposition control of smart materials from the current paradigm (extrinsic and centralized with fixed material properties and mechanics) to instead dynamic materials-based energy management that is intrinsic, modular, and distributed.”

DoD officials are also seeking new research on metamaterial-based antennas.

University-industry partners are urged to look into microwave airborne antenna concepts, with the aim of reducing aerodynamic footprint and increasing communications and surveillance speed.

“Industry’s initial role in a DESI project is to provide a national security context for the defense challenge, and to collaborate with the university research team throughout the project. The university’s role is to invent or discover knowledge that could be leveraged for completely new solutions to the defense challenge,” DoD officials wrote.

The DESI program is sponsored by Air Force Office of Scientific Research, in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Army Research Office.