The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking to conduct an unspecified experiment in urban tunnels, and it’s looking to do it soon.

DARPA tweeted Wednesday that it needed a location by close of business Friday looking for a university or commercial business with underground urban tunnels the agency could borrow for research and experimentation.

“The subterranean domain – whether human-made tunnels, urban underground infrastructure, or natural cave networks – is becoming increasingly relevant for global security and disaster-related search and rescue missions. As such, DARPA is interested in understanding the state-of-the-art in innovative technologies that have the potential to disruptively and positively impact how the underground domain is leveraged without prohibitive cost and risk to human lives,” reads the agency’s information package.

“DARPA is interested in understanding the state-of-the-art in innovative technologies that may enable future solutions to rapidly map, navigate, and search unknown complex subterranean environments to locate objects of interest. To support these technologies, DARPA is looking to find locations that researchers can utilize to experiment and enhance their innovative approaches.”

The details of what might be tested are unknown, and the source — DARPA — is known for strange and unorthodox experimentation. DARPA regularly ventures into the realm of science fiction with what could only be described as absurd and sometimes silly projects.

Among things the agency is working on are Marvel-style helicarriers, Black Mirror-style bug-drones, Star Trek-style universal translators, True Blood-style synthetic blood, Fallout-style power armor and the kind of autodocs and cyborgs seen across science fiction. The agency’s real-life extrasensory perception program inspired the hit film “Men Who Stare at Goats,” it aimed to power spaceflight by throwing nuclear bombs in a shuttle’s wake, and proposed a macabre stock exchange of terrorism to try and predict future terror targets.

These weird, colorful and even cool projects serve as something of an invisibility cloak (another DARPA project) for some of the agency’s more dubious endeavors. One current line of research is insects that can deliver biological weapons to targets. Another is a surveillance drone capable of identifying someone from 20,000 feet and able to record an area half the size of Manhattan. And forget cybernetic soldiers — DARPA is looking into robotic killing machines to endanger yet another human job. DARPA is also keenly interested in mind control and has been for quite a while.

DARPA wants its researchers to “think about having a Dr. Evil” — the kooky and unhinged mad scientist from the Austin Powers franchise, in particular as it relates to their underground tunnels programs. Which makes the characterization of their request as an imminent need for a creepy lair fairly apt.

“I want all you brilliant people out here to think about what happens when the person who’s in the underground doesn’t want me to go in, and what’s he going to do to make my life miserable,” said Bob Hastie, a senior technical adviser at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, to the teams involved in one underground project. “I want all of you to think about having a Dr. Evil on your team.”

Even the way DARPA approached seeking a spooky underground lair is odd, from its short notice to its inclusion of pictures of suitably lairesque environments.

“The Twitter thread began with a cheery ‘Attention, city dwellers!’ (you know, that thing normal humans say when addressing other humans) and devolved from there into jokes about ‘demogorgons’ from the TV show Stranger Things,” explains Live Science’s Rafi Letzter. “The agency included spooky images of dark urban tunnels, presumably out of concern that there might be someone out there who controls a sufficiently closed-off, complicated tunnel network but doesn’t know what underground tunnels look like.”

In fairness to DARPA, the world is run on their research as well. Far from just terrifying weapons and zany ideas, DARPA has also been the driving force behind the internet, GPS and voice assistants like Alexa or SIRI. This is because DARPA acts as a “high risk, high reward” agency free to mess up or do really odd things without much consequence in the interest of producing things like SIRI, GPS or the Internet.

But DARPA is hardly one to give specifics on any project, even ones for which it is frantically searching for a creepy lair.  So wherever the agency ends up operating could be home to the next GPS or the next Lovecraftian strangeness — both are likely when DARPA is involved.

(Featured image: Needpix.com/Creative Commons)


Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.


  1. As a wild guess, they’re either testing multispectral ground-penetrating sensors (space or air-breather platforms for use in smart bomb targeting), or testing signal emitters (for use in escape and evasion).

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