New Age of Discovery: Government’s Role in Transformative Innovation

August 2, 2012

From reaching for the stars to developing the information super-highway, government R&D has unlocked many doors and ignited human curiosity and discovery. A generation ago, research by the Defense Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) spurred some of the most transformative innovations in the modern era: the foundations of the internet, stealth technology, and GPS. One of today’s most promising frontiers and urgent challenges is the quest for sustainable energy. For this reason, it is critical to remember that a consistent government role in supporting high-risk impact, early stage innovation is essential in reaching transformative breakthroughs.

Using DARPA as a model, the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) was founded three years ago to develop risky and audacious ways of generating and storing sustainable energy. Given the scale and complexity of the energy sector, lessons learned from DARPA about defining success and the character of innovation are key for policymakers and will to serve ARPA-E well in its important mission. Former ARPA-E- Director Arun Manjumdar, current ARPA-E Principal Deputy Director Eric Toone, and former House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon explore the character of early stage government innovation support in both military and energy applications. They survey the history of DARPA for lessons on how to measure success and maximize the value of the public investment in ARPA-E. What can past success teach us as we embark on today’s Age of Discovery.