Canada joins the rush to create a Darpa


Canada is moving to create its own version of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), hoping for big payoffs for academic science that doubts this is the right solution to a real problem.

Darpa has achieved legendary status since its founding in 1958 for its tactics of funding highly unlikely technical ventures that rarely but sometimes spectacularly succeed. His full or partial credits include personal computer, internet, satellites, GPS, drones and stealth warplanes.

Canada is now looking to join a series of imitators in the United States and abroad. The Trudeau government, which has pledged C$2bn (£1.2bn) for a Canadian Advanced Research Projects Agency, will likely propose an initial investment in its annual budget this spring.

As in other attempts to replicate the magic of Darpa, Canada has both eager enthusiasts who expect a major boost for scientific research in academia and beyond, and those who warn that the US initiator benefits from a unique set of circumstances that are difficult to copy.

This general concern is especially true for Canada, said John Hepburn, chief executive of Mitacs, a nonprofit facilitator of national industry-academic partnerships. Before Canada worries about generating more scientific innovation, Dr Hepburn said, it needs an industry support policy that will help its inventors resist the sale of research advances to the United States. they already do.

The E. society from wasting huge amounts of money on low-probability research activities, he said.

“It reminds me of the trips everyone took to Israel to learn their secret sauce for innovation, disregarding the secret sauce in Israel was being surrounded by neighbors who wanted to kill them,” he said. Dr. Hepburn, a former vice president. -Chair for Research and International at the University of British Columbia. “That fascination with Darpa is the same – you’re trying to fit something into a completely different system.”

Others, however, view the Darpa model as a much-needed break from traditional styles of research funding, where federal grants are often seen as going to academic scientists with detailed study proposals that get the collective endorsement within a framework of peer review, thus producing incremental and somewhat expected progress in areas already generally understood.

A Canadian Darpa might not be necessary to move beyond that habit, said one of the idea’s most prominent proponents, Robert Asselin, senior vice president of policy at the Business Council of Canada. But so far, Dr. Asselin said, Canada’s three major research funding agencies have been unable to break this model of “academic gatekeeping” that protects tenured scientists.

A more fundamental frustration among Canadian leaders with their national science enterprise is this tendency to sell off research discoveries. Before taking the risk of channeling billions of dollars into a Darpa model, Canada should first leverage its existing scientific expertise by identifying industries where it could be more globally competitive, and then directing investments towards them, said Dr. Hepburn.

Dr. Asselin argued that both strategies made sense. A Canadian Darpa would also help stem Canada’s tendency to sell its research innovations, as the model relies heavily on promoting close interactions between industry and academic science, he said.

[email protected]


Comments are closed.