"The lobster is able to maneuver inside the surf zone where the water is very rough," she said. "We want to know, 'How does it do that and keep from being knocked around?'"
A U.S. soldier in the field can be weighed down with 100 pounds of gear or more. The sheer exhaustion associated with carrying that kind of load -- particularly in the deserts of Iraq -- can affect his ability to do his job, whether it's fighting alongside his comrades or supporting them.
Leave it to DARPA to come up with a unique solution to that problem, too.
"'Big Dog,' which is by a company called Boston Dynamics, is not actually a dog, it's more like a pack mule," said Shachtman. "The idea is to offload some of that weight onto this robotic pack mule, and this thing actually walks."
The four-legged robot can traverse rough terrains, trotting alongside soldiers with the heavy gear that once weighed it down.
Though still being developed, "Big Dog" is a great example of learning lessons from nature, sprinkling in a bit of technology and solving a problem that plagues the military.
The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program has taken more than a few shots from animal rights groups over the years for its use of dolphins and sea lions in military operations.
Though the Navy admits it uses the animals' exceptional internal sonar to track mines and even identify enemy divers, it denies they've ever been used in offensive operations.
Still, rumors persist that dolphins have been equipped with weapons and Shachtman said he has heard tales of the friendly-looking mammals making aquatic arrests.
"Dolphins are used both as mine watchers and in some cases to intercept and handcuff enemy swimmers," he explained. "They sort of go down with a set of cuffs in their teeth, and they can manipulate them and get them on."
While there are no sharks yet in uniform and cyborg insects are still in development, Shachtman finds some encouragement in the military's more unusual programs.
"The Defense Department is what, $600 billion a year?" he asked. "That leaves a lot of room for all kinds of kooky projects. I wouldn't say there's an order from Donald Rumsfeld to build mechanical bees or something like that, but especially in DARPA, there's a desire to explore and freedom to look into things that may or may not work out militarily."
He believes that, although many of DARPA's programs are scrapped before they're seen through, it's one of the few places in government research where dreaming is considered an asset.
"I wouldn't interpret that to mean we're going to have an army of dolphins and robotic bears attacking the enemy anytime soon," Shachtman joked.