This could lead to a host of (explosive) complications

I note with interest that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is offering cash prizes to anyone who can ‘weaponize’ common off-the-shelf items.

On Friday … DARPA announced that they would award money to people who can turn consumer electronics, household chemicals, 3-D printed parts, cheap drones or other “commercially available technology” into the next improvised weapon.

. . .

The broad agency announcement, or BAA, puts almost no limit on the scope of the technology that engineers can use in their exploration. It’s an unusual BAA, as they go, specifically designed to catch the attention not just of favored defense contractors but also “skilled hobbyists.” So get your mad scientist hat out, but don’t break the law.

“Proposers are free to reconfigure, repurpose, program, reprogram, modify, combine, or recombine commercially available technology in any way within the bounds of local, state, and federal laws and regulations. Use of components, products, and systems from non-military technical specialties (e.g., transportation, construction, maritime, and communications) is of particular interest,” the BAA says.

Also, don’t just mail your toaster bomb in and expect your reward. The program has three phases. First, submit a plan for your prototype and, if DARPA likes it, or rather, finds it terrifying enough, they’ll give you $40,000. A smaller number of participants will be selected to go on to phase two where they will build their device or system with $70,000 more in possible funding. The top candidates here will go on to a final phase for a more in-depth analysis of their invention or system, a big military demo of how your device or system could give the military a very bad day.

There’s more at the link.

The tricky thing is for private hobbyists to design something that doesn’t fall afoul of US law.  For example, it’s a serious offense to store explosives in a residential dwelling – but if they’re trying to meet DARPA’s challenge by making a toaster into an improvised explosive device, some tinkerers won’t think about that in the heat of the moment.  Also, going online to do research into things like ‘bomb-making’ is likely to draw their Internet searches to the extremely unfriendly attention of agencies like the FBI, who understandably have absolutely no sense of humor when it comes to that sort of thing.  I foresee complications . . .

(On the other hand, the comedic possibilities of turning a toaster into a bomb are endless.  “It doesn’t go BANG! – it goes BAGEL!”)



  1. Storing or handling ANY explosives without a permit is illegal.
    If you do get a permit, in some cases the ATF will provide a storage variance allowing storage in a residential dwelling if you follow the right procedures, chiefly to do with a proper indoor magazine and locked doors.

    The problem with this proposal is that due to federal rules, ATF and otherwise, anything that could cause serious harm to our military is illegal unless you have special federal permits and licenses (such as the above mentioned explosives permit).

  2. Brilliant on DARPAs part. What it is saying is, "we got nothing. You?"

    Paying other people to be smart is better than being smart yourself.

    It is also likely to be reviewed by Intel agencies to assist them in learning what to look for from the smart bad guys.

    — Genericviews

  3. Worthless. They are looking for ideas to help defend themselves from terrorists. The only problem is that the terrorists are not constrained by having to follow the law. This is akin to asking someone to play battleship, but allowing them to move the ships as they please.

  4. Genius in action.

    In one swoop- identify likely improvised weapons, identify likely suspects, and get them to incriminate themselves.

    This solicitation is directed AT the people the government considers most dangerous. Smart, creative, technically savvy people with an interest in weapons design. That is a nice tasty bait they tossed out.

  5. Much useful information can be found in TM 31-210, of course, even if some of the raw materials that were common when that was written are not so common now.
    I have quite a variety of evil-ish ideas, though most of them don't seem to fit the spec… though, with Arduini (or whatever the heck the plural of Arduino is) and various sensor and actuator modules having become ubiquitous, some very clever control systems can be assembled from what are now toy-store items.
    My approach to this challenge would be: let's assume for the moment that any idiot can build a pipe bomb; here's a clever way to deliver it, set it off, etc. Demonstrations can be carried out using inert simulated munitions – though then you have to worry about laws regarding hoax bombs, or having parts of bombs.
    In any case, I don't have the time and space to work on such things this year, and I wouldn't be inclined to share my ideas with the government anyway. But I'm sure a bunch of destructively-creative types will arise to the challenge.

  6. Or it could be a fishing expedition for people who have the capability to be a terrorist bomb maker.

    It's not that I don't trust a single word the comes from the government – (I don't) but that's not why–really.

  7. Anon at 2:32 is correct – this is a poorly conceived trap to entice the easy ones into surfacing on the .gov radar and be ensnared in legal problems, where upon the ATF/FBI will trumpet the destruction of a "terror cell" or "lone wolf".
    OOhh! More funding!! And another shot at the Second Amendment…

  8. Hmmm.
    If it is a trap – I'm guessing DARPA doesn't intend it as such, but Homeland Security will surely turn it into one – it's a trap for patriotic creatively dangerous people.
    So, exactly the sort of people who aren't really a menace, and who ought to be encouraged.
    Could be a talent troll by DARPA, that gets turned into a witch-hunt by DHS.
    Right hand, meet left hand.

  9. Huh. Out of curiosity, what does one do as a writer, go ogling things like "bomb making" and info about other…unusual subjects? I'm an insatiably curious autodidact who is very skilled at the art of procrastination and finding distractions from writing, so I'm sort of doubly cursed.

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