Vanishingly Small Systems

How do we provide reliable intelligence in a technologically flat world?


The United States must collect data about adversaries who are increasingly capable of detecting or countering the nation’s intelligence capabilities so that U.S. leaders can avoid surprises and engage the world from a position of strength. Current approaches rely on exquisite, expensive intelligence collection platforms that require a separate industrial infrastructure to develop. These systems are increasingly vulnerable to smart tactics, techniques and procedures; adversaries can learn how U.S. equipment operates and develop countermeasures to these either by spoofing or evading detection.

Capabilities Used
Positioning, Navigation & Timing (PNT)

Draper develops novel PN&T solutions by combining precision instrumentation, advanced hardware technology, comprehensive algorithm and software development skills, and unique infrastructure and test resources to deploy system solutions. The scope of these efforts generally focuses on guidance, navigation, and control GN&C-related needs, ranging from highly accurate, inertial solutions for (ICBMs) and inertial/stellar solutions for SLBMs, to integrated Inertial Navigation System(INS)/GPS solutions for gun-fired munitions, to multisensor configurations for soldier navigation in GPS-challenged environments. Emerging technologies under development that leverage and advance commercial technology offerings include celestial navigation (compact star cameras), inertial navigation (MEMS, cold atom sensors), precision time transfer (precision optics, chip-scale atomic clocks) and vision-based navigation (cell phone cameras, combinatorial signal processing algorithms).

Autonomous Systems

Draper combines mission planning, PN&T, situational awareness, and novel GN&C designs to develop and deploy autonomous platforms for ground, air, sea and undersea needs. These systems range in complexity from human-in-the-loop to systems that operate without any human intervention. The design of these systems generally involves decomposing the mission needs into sets of scenarios that result in trade studies that lead to an optimized solution with key performance requirements.  Draper continues to advance the field of autonomy through research in the areas of mission planning, sensing and perception, mobility, learning, real-time performance evaluation and human trust in autonomous systems.

Precision Instrumentation

Draper develops precision instrumentation systems that exceed the state-of-the-art in key parameters (input range, accuracy, stability, bandwidth, ruggedness, etc.) that are designed specifically to operate in our sponsor’s most challenging environments (high shock, high temperature, radiation, etc.).  As a recognized leader in the development and application of precision instrumentation solutions for platforms ranging from missiles to people to micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Draper finds or develops state-of-the-art components (gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers, precision clocks, optical systems, etc.) that meet the demanding size, weight, power and cost needs of our sponsors and applies extensive system design capabilities consisting of modeling, mechanical and electrical design, packaging and development-level testing to realize instrumentation solutions that meet these critical and demanding needs.

Draper technology and innovation allow us to challenge the physical limits of how small systems can be.

Draper tailors the best available commercial technologies to intelligence collection problems and combines them with unique mission-enabling technologies, creating extremely small collection systems with surprising sensitivity and resolution. Small systems are inherently more difficult to detect, and therefore they can be operated closer to the source of interest. They are cost-effective and thus easier to distribute widely. Draper’s component-level innovations include zero-power and energy-scavenging Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) sensors, RF antennas that operate near the fundamental limits of efficiency versus size, smart antennas that adapt to environmental detuning and novel materials to enable lower-loss RF passives. Draper’s MEMS devices build on expertise developed over many years. Newer efforts strive to address fundamental limits, such as a program in which Draper will develop litz wire for RF inductors by braiding submicron-scale wires using a self-assembly and directed assembly process exploiting the specific binding properties of organic molecules.



Draper engineers and scientists study present-day technological limits in order to work around the constraints that cause others to say the job can't be done.


Draper’s technology base, pooled with those of selected commercial and defense industry partners, provides systems that are smaller than those found anywhere else. Draper’s integrated ultrahigh-density (iUHD) packaging technology — combined with technologies for commercial component repurposing, small and accurate crystal oscillators, miniaturized bulk circuit components, smart antennas, power management and signal enhancing apertures — yield systems that provide capabilities that are truly surprising. Draper’s ability to engineer these collectors at the system level takes advantage of mission consideration, allowing us to define the technical boundaries from low size, weight and power collection systems. Draper tackles these challenges with a diverse team able to work across the wide range from fundamental science to early product development. 

Technical Contact
Greg Cardinale