Advanced Materials used in Military Technology
By Kris Walker
DARPA, the research arm of the United States defense agencies, has been in pursuit of a unique suit for soldiers that would utilize advanced robotics and nanomaterials technology to prevent injury and improve stamina on the battlefield.
The suit, dubbed 'Warrior Web', would be a combination robotic exoskeleton/supportive undergarment designed to better distribute the weight of heavy gear and provide joint support to reduce injury.
The DARPA 'tech sheet' asks scientists to deliver an entirely new wearable technology, complete with its own lexicon: 'core injury mitigation technology,' 'suit human-to-wearer interface.'
Not to be outdone, US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) put out its own request for a 'super-soldier' suit for military special operators. The Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) takes the Warrior Web to sci-fi level. Emphasizing situational awareness, TALOS will utilize technology enabling soldiers to navigate independently while tracking their fellow operators and external threats.
It will also be equipped with biometric sensors that allow operators to track their physical health conditions and feature material impregnated with rechargeable energy sources.
While the Warrior Web utilizes high-tech carbon nanotubes in its body armor, TALOS is entertaining a truly revolutionary concept from researchers at MIT: Liquid body armor.
MIT has been experimenting with a magnetorheological fluid that, when exposed to a magnetic field or electric current, becomes an impenetrable solid in milliseconds.
These breathable membranes have pores made of a few nanometer-wide vertically aligned carbon nanotubes.
Another interesting use of advanced nanomaterials for soldiers and military applications comes from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where researchers have developed a fabric from carbon nanotubes that detects and repels chemical and biological weapons.
Francesco Fornasiero, principal investigator for the project, says, "The uniform will be like a smart second skin that responds to the environment." The membrane pores on the "skin" are only a few nanometers wide; biological agents like viruses are ten or more nanometers in size and cannot pass through the barrier.
The defense industry is also harnessing advances in nanoparticle technology in the development of nanopharmaceuticals designed to reduce battlefield mortality.
The privately held Florida company Nanotherapeutics has partnered with the USDOD to fund clinical trials for NanoDOX Hydrogel and NanoDTPA.
The Hydrogel product addresses the high mortality rate (between 14-50%) associated with wound dehiscence after traumatic injuries. The gel helps traumatic and postsurgical wounds stay closed, reducing bleeding complications and secondary infections. The NanoDTPA is a capsule designed to treat radionucleotide exposure in the event of a "dirty bomb."
Maybe Iron Man is a bit of a stretch for the military's version of the modern soldier, but these advanced materials and nanotech advances are welcome additions for soldiers on the battlefield.
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Image Credit: DARPA, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Further Reading: Advances Bionic Suits to Protect Soldiers, Nanotechnology and Homeland Defense, New military apparel repels chemical and biological agents, TALOS: The next generation of military exo-suit, DARPA