Future Soldier Will Generate Power

Doug Smock, Contributing Editor -- Design News, December 10, 2007…

Doug Smock, Contributing Editor — Design News, December 10, 2007

The American soldier of the future will be garbed in an array of lightweight nanoscale materials that will provide ballistic protection, produce power through solar energy and integrate electronics
that can monitor health and provide assistance when needed.

The drive toward a higher-tech soldier and combat vehicles is fueling development of new materials technology that rivals the revolution in materials seen in World War II, when the modern plastics industry was created.

One of the big goals is to reduce the weight and complexity of a modern soldier’s pack, which weighs as much as 140 lb, depending on the mission. A modern U.S. Army platoon requires close to 900 batteries.

“The Army has treated the soldier like a Christmas tree,” says Edwin Thomas, not long after he inaugurated the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, which is funded by the Dept. of Defense, MIT and private partners, including DuPont and Raytheon. “Someone would come up with a cool new thing and say ‘here carry this.’ Someone else comes up with a cool thing and says ‘carry this.’ And by the way it has its own special battery you have to buy from us,” he says.

The Army’s Wish List
The charter of the MIT center — working with the U.S. Army Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center — is to find smaller integrated solutions. And those goals are striking. In an 80-page broad announcement, these are some examples of what the Army wants:

• New polymers with improved tensile properties that can increase ballistic protection and reduce weight over current individual protection systems. One target is liquid crystal polymer fibers.

• New materials for energy absorption and vapor permeability cooling management for helmets.
• Improved lightweight, integrated communications devices.
• Chemical and biological protection.
• Integration of novel flame retardant systems into low-cost fibers for flame and thermal protection.
• Development of textile systems that cloak soldiers from infrared and other sensors used in enemy surveillance.
• Development of body-worn interactive systems that integrate electronics into protective clothing.
• Biomechanical devices that help soldiers in the field handle larger loads, such as an exoskeleton.
• Solar and fuel cells that soldiers can wear. The Army wants power levels of 20 to 30W. The cell can weigh no more than 0.6 kg.

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