8/12/2005

Wired News: Uber-Soldier Needs Much Debugging

Bullets won't stop them; neither will chemical attacks. Their nanotech-made muscles might let them jump higher and kick more butt than their opponents. And if they do somehow get hurt, the suit could immediately start to heal them and report their injuries back to headquarters.[But first you have to give soldiers some suits, isn't it ? All this hi tech won't do anything if it doesn't get ordered for 2 years while soldiers are dying... -- law]

Uber-Soldier Needs Much Debugging


CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts -- Thanks to their sleek, form-fitting battle suits, ordinary soldiers may someday turn into supermen.

Bullets won't stop them; neither will chemical attacks. Their nanotech-made muscles might let them jump higher and kick more butt than their opponents. And if they do somehow get hurt, the suit could immediately start to heal them and report their injuries back to headquarters.

At least, that's what a collection of industrial, academic and military bigwigs promise, as they gather here this week for the official launch of MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies.

The reality is, many bugs have to be worked out before the U.S. puts super soldiers on the field. A good start for ISN would be simply keeping their electronics-laden outerwear dry in the rain.

The 125-person-plus Institute, started last year with a $50 million grant from the Army, got its official kickoff Thursday at MIT's Technology Square. Under a pair of large white tents, and in the Institute's new offices, a battalion of generals and vice presidents heralded the dawn of the über-soldier with high-end videos, slick brochures and a buffet lunch.

Grunts paraded around in mock-ups of their new uniforms. And Army Specialist Jason Ashline, shot in the chest during the Afghan conflict, briefly mentioned how body armor saved his life.

But it was the nervous, smiling MIT graduate students and professors in the ISN labs upstairs who gave the most realistic assessments of what to expect from the Institute.

Yes, they've developed molecular structures that can swing open and shut like a hinge when hit with an electric field. And sure, someday, if they can figure out how to coordinate millions and millions of these hinges, they could maybe turn them into exo-muscles on a soldier's battle suit that could "provide additional muscle strength for lifting or jumping."

But right now, they can't even get the hinges to line up, "even on a micron (1,000th of a millimeter) scale," said graduate student Nathan Vandesteeg. It's a long way from a micron to a muscle.

Wired News: Uber-Soldier Needs Much Debugging

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