The Pentagon’s mad scientist arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is launching a competition to design a new amphibious infantry fighting vehicle for the Marine Corps.

It’s also to be a test of DARPA’s Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) program. Through the program, engineers at Vanderbilt University and elsewhere have been creating a virtual test environment populated with the most sophisticated computer models of auto parts ever built.

Competitors in the Challenge will be able to put parts together within the system to form their own unique designs, and then test computationally how they will behave as complete systems in the real world. It’s a capability that has never existed before.

“We are building a new set of tools,” AVM program manager Nathan Wiedenman told members of the press, including yours truly, yesterday, “to enable a designer to create what is commonly called a correct by construction system design.”

In other words, the system should work right the first time it is built, doing away with the need to build prototypes before going into production. It’s a typical mad science idea from DARPA, one that could revolutionize the design and manufacture of complex machines. “We don’t have to get stuck in this design-built-test-redesign cycle,” said Wiedenman. That cycle adds years and corresponding cost to the development of new machines.

Registration is now open for the FANG Challenge, which will progress in steps to culminate in the design and build of an all-new vehicle.

  • FANG Challenge 1, a competition for building a new drive train, worth $1 million, opens January 14 and runs through April 22.
  • FANG Challenge 2, for building a chassis, also for $1 million, opens late in 2013.
  • FANG Challenge 3, for designing a complete vehicle, for a $2 million prize, opens in 2014.

Visit for details and to register.