Autonomous Outdoor Chemical Sensing Technology

This request for information is intended to provide information relevant to a possible future IARPA investment (such as a program or grand challenge).  Respondents are invited to provide comments on the content of this announcement to include suggestions for improving the scope of a possible solicitation to ensure that every effort is made to adequately address the scientific and technical challenges described below.  Responses to this request may be used to support development of, and subsequently be incorporated within, a future IARPA solicitation and therefore must be available for unrestricted public distribution.  Neither proprietary nor classified concepts or information should be included in the responses.  The following sections of this announcement contain details of the scope of technical efforts of interest, along with instructions for the submission of responses.


Background and Scope

Commercial chemical sensors must make trades between selectivity, sensitivity, portability, and response time because of limitations in the underlying detection technologies. Over the past decade advancements have been made both in fundamental research and device integration that have improved the capability for chemical analysis in the field environment (i.e., outside of chemistry laboratory).  For this RFI, we are specifically interested in advances in detection technologies, both passive and active, that may enable a new generation of chemical sensors suitable for unattended outdoor use.  Examples of technologies at various stages of maturity include: nanowire arrays, functional polymeric materials, cantilever arrays, self-assembled molecular switches, functionalized graphene, quantum dots, enzyme-based assays, miniaturized mass spectrometers, and many others.

This RFI seeks to assess the breadth of potential technologies in two regions of the field-deployable chemical sensor trade space:


  1. The first modality of interest is a chemical sensing technology that provides high sensitivity and high specificity for a small, targeted group of chemicals (4 to 5 target analytes) with very low false positive rates and false negative rates relative to very similar groups of chemicals.  Technology in this category should be capable of identifying the target signature(s), such as organophosphates or toxic industrial chemicals, within complex mixtures in near real-time.
  2. The second modality of interest is a group of candidate technologies that would be capable of detecting broad groups or classes of chemicals related to the target signatures, such as organophosphates, precursors, and industrial-scale reagents, with moderate to high sensitivity and low to moderate false positive rates in a highly compact footprint.  The requirement for dealing with mixtures and providing near real-time results also applies.

In both of these areas, portability, power consumption, durability, and sensor lifetime remain primary concerns, and thus size, weight, power, and long-term reliability must be considered when evaluating how each technology would integrate into a fieldable device.  The proposed technologies should enable development of a device that retains its analytical precision over its lifetime does not require physical interaction with the senor for recalibration, has minimal instrument drift, and can be deployed for at least one year. 

This RFI invites interested parties to respond with ideas, approaches, and /or examples of data – to include negative findings or failures to replicate results – that can address the following questions;

  1. How might the proposed technology create disruptive change to the capabilities of current field-deployable chemical sensors?
  2. In what areas of the chemical sensor trade space (e.g., sensitivity, selectivity, portability, response time, power, etc.) would the proposed technology have the greatest impact?
  3. What fundamental challenges (or limitations) must be overcome for the proposed technology to create a disruptive improvement in field-deployable chemical sensor technology?
  4. What environmental factors (e.g., rain, humidity, dust, oxidation, temperature change, chemical background, etc.) pose the greatest challenge to the proposed sensor technology?  How are these factors being addressed by these new technologies? 
  5. What additional technology developments will be required to integrate the proposed technology into a field-ready system? 
  6. Aside from improving individual detection technologies, what other development areas could address some of the challenges for field chemical sensing? Combining multiple sensor motifs: Separation technology? Data processing algorithms? Other ideas? 

Preparation Instructions to Respondents

IARPA solicits respondents to submit ideas related to this topic for use by the Government in formulating a potential program.  IARPA requests that submittals briefly and clearly describe the potential approach or concept, outline critical technical issues, and comment on the expected performance, robustness, and estimated cost of the proposed approach.  This announcement contains all of the information required to submit a response.  No additional forms, kits, or other materials are needed.

IARPA appreciates responses from all capable and qualified sources from within and outside the U.S.  Because IARPA is interested in an integrated approach, responses from teams with complementary areas of expertise are encouraged.  Responses have the following formatting requirements:

  1. A one page coversheet that identifies the title, organization(s), respondent’s technical and administrative points of contact – including names, addresses, phone and fax numbers, and email addresses of all co-authors, and clearly indicating its association with IARPA-RFI-13-01;
  2. A substantive, focused, one-half page executive summary;
  3. A description (limited to 5 pages in minimum 12 point Times New Roman font, appropriate for single-sided, single-spaced 8.5 by 11 inch paper, with 1-inch margins) of the technical challenges and suggested approach(es);
  4. A list of citations (any significant claims or reports of success must be accompanied by citations, and reference material MUST be attached);
  5. Optionally, a single overview briefing chart graphically depicting key ideas.


Disclaimers and Important Notes

This is an RFI issued solely for information and new investment planning purposes and does not constitute a solicitation.  Respondents are advised that IARPA is under no obligation to acknowledge receipt of the information received, or provide feedback to respondents with respect to any information submitted under this RFI.
Responses to this notice are not offers and cannot be accepted by the Government to form a binding contract.  Respondents are solely responsible for all expenses associated with responding to this RFI.  It is the respondents’ responsibility to ensure that the submitted material has been approved for public release by the organization that funded or sponsored the referenced research.

The Government does not intend to award a contract on the basis of this RFI or to otherwise pay for the information solicited, nor is the Government obligated to issue a solicitation based on responses received.  Neither proprietary nor classified concepts or information should be included in the submittal. Input on technical aspects of the responses may be solicited by IARPA from non-Government consultants/experts who are bound by appropriate non-disclosure requirements.


For information contact:


Posted Date: February 7, 2013
Responses Due: March 15, 2013