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 promised, as they gathered here this week for the official launch of MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies.
The reality is that a new kind of waterproofing for their vests and ponchos is the only technological advance infantrymen are likely to see in the next few years from “ISN.”
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 ber-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.
“We’re always confronted with the fact that the people we’re working for are coming up with these crazy ideas,” he continued. “It gets you excited. But then there’s the whole realization of whether this will happen when I’m here — or ever.”
Check out my Wired News article for more from the ISN.
MEDIA TECHNO-DROOL ALERT: Those critical thinkers at Reuters and USA Today have swallowed MIT’s super-soldier hype, no questions asked.
Reuters: “If you ask the U.S. Army’s chief scientist what the future American soldier may look like, he points to the science fiction body armor depicted in the ‘Predator’ movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
USA Today: “It was once the stuff of science fiction movies: soldiers equipped with high-tech gear that made them stronger, swifter and smarter invulnerable to bullets and able to survive the harshest conditions. On Thursday, the U.S. Army and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology unveiled a joint project that generals and scientists said could make fiction a reality within this decade.”
CNet, on the other hand, plays it straight — providing good background on nanotech — while the Register gets deliciously mean.