Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have devised a sensor that can detect substances at the nanoscopic scale. What potential practical daily uses could this technology be used for? Are there any ethical considerations for this technology? How would this affect national and public security?
Nestled deep inside NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston is the Defense Department’s Human Spaceflight Payloads Office, where a team of personnel strives to find rides into space for military experiments. Tests that affect defense, security and commercial interests route through the office in the hopes of making it aboard a manned mission off the planet. The work in the office is only part of a program that aims to place as many research projects into space as possible. Successes from the experiments range from technologies now in everyday use to products that save lives on the battlefield.
Researchers from military laboratories are studying the human element in detecting explosive devices, trying to determine if certain people have an instinct for locating the weapons and, if so, what characteristics they share. The results add another piece to the puzzle in the Defense Department’s efforts to counter improvised explosive devices. The work already has uncovered certain facets of information that military commanders can use to identify troops with innate abilities or to train warfighters in specific skills.
Research and development is the seed corn of our technology driven world. With the commercial sector providing many of the military's new technologies, the old lines delineating military and commercial technologies are blurring into nonexistence. The defense community is working with academia and the private sector to an ever greater degree, and the rapid pace of commercial information technology innovation is increasing the importance of laboratory research.
A three-year science and technology project is aiming to transform abstract quantum theories into actual quantum products. A goal of the effort is to create the world’s first silicon spin-based quantum bit, which would be a major advancement in the development of quantum computing. Additionally, the work includes its own theoretical piece that addresses the design of a quantum error correction circuit. Applications include enhancing the basic understanding of spin device physics for potential spin-based microelectronics and determining the feasibility of certain aspects of silicon quantum bits for future research and use.
Warfighters one day may have electronics literally painted onto their uniforms thanks to a new technology for printing circuitry. The process involves spraying a film composed of carbon nanotubes onto a surface to form thin, flexible circuits. This capability potentially can be applied to cloth, plastics or other soft materials, opening the possibility for communications devices built into clothing or solar panels sprayed onto the tops of tents.
A revolutionary new technology may allow future warfighters to command their equipment to physically change itself to meet new operational needs or to form spare parts or tools. Researchers are developing techniques to order materials to self-assemble or alter their shape, perform a function and then disassemble themselves. These capabilities offer the possibility for morphing aircraft and ground vehicles, uniforms that can alter themselves to be comfortable in any climate, and “soft” robots that flow like mercury through small openings to enter caves and bunker complexes.
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher is developing a way to take simple descriptions of behavior patterns and assemble them to uncover complex dynamics. Once achieved, this capability would enable data to drive the learning mechanism with as little external intervention as possible. Although only in the basic research phase, this methodology could one day enable warfighters and analysts to take seemingly unrelated information and reveal underlying behavior—a valuable commodity in fighting the Global War on Terrorism.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has embarked on a quest to develop a soda-can-size robot that can shape shift enough to fit through a hole the diameter of a quarter. Working with industry and academia, the agency’s Chemical Robots program seeks to create a new class of soft, flexible, meso-scale mobile device that can navigate through arbitrarily shaped openings. As envisioned, the robot would then perform tasks related to search and rescue or reconnaissance, depending on the payload.
Uncertainty has challenged military operations since the days of the ancient Greeks. An experimental decision-making technology could help future commanders see through some of the fog of war by helping them plan operations, recognize when a plan is not working and develop alternatives to keep ahead of the enemy.