Holodecks may only exist in the realm of science fiction, but work underway at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory will allow military personnel to not only view a deluge of data but also interact with it. Many of the technologies that are key to this effort are still in their infancy; however, researchers are examining some currently available commercial products that meet requirements identified by commanders. Today's data display systems allow military personnel to view substantial amounts of data on one interactive screen. Tomorrow's systems would invite commanders to step inside a scenario virtually and become immersed in situational awareness.
research and development
Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico, are conducting ground-breaking research into super-small structures that has led to prototype devices such as ultraminiaturized chemical sensors and analyzers, tiny medical devices, super-strong alloys, and catalysts for destroying hazardous materials. Future applications could include filters that selectively admit or seal out substances through molecule-sized valves, medical devices that precisely monitor patient health and deliver exact doses of medication based on that data, and clothing that knows when the wearer is hot or cold and then admits air or becomes an insulator accordingly.
A new polymer-based electro-optic modulator may provide fiber optic networks with an order of magnitude increase in bandwidth that could clear the way for applications ranging from broadband Internet access to full-scale holographic projection currently found in science fiction television programs. Developed in a joint research effort by scientists at the University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, and the University of Washington, Seattle, the new technology also uses less power than present-generation modulators and features low noise disturbance.
By mimicking the natural response of living tissue to injury, cross-departmental researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a polymeric material that heals itself when damaged. Cracks can be precursors to structural failure, and the ability to treat weakened regions will result in longer-lasting materials used in a variety of applications from microelectronics to aerospace.
Researchers are studying applications and materials for creating radio antennas that are sprayed onto a surface. Made from commercially available materials, these devices consist of a conductive substance sprayed over a template with a radio aerial pattern on it. The antennas can be applied directly to walls, windows or fabric shelters, allowing military commanders and relief workers to set up communications networks quickly.
The U.S. military may one day obtain detailed reconnaissance imagery with laser light that has never touched a target. By using two laser beams and taking advantage of a unique characteristic of quantum mechanics that permits one beam to mirror the state of its twin, researchers are developing low-power systems that can measure, or illuminate, objects across a variety of frequencies, yet generate detailed pictures in the visible spectrum.
The science-fiction image of robot warriors engaging in decisive battlefield conflicts may be closer to reality with the development of new robotic technologies. Researchers are sending autonomous vehicles up stairs, through fields and across a nation as they work toward mobile machines that can learn new behaviors while operating independently of human control.
U.S. Defense Department science and technology investment is transcending the requirements model of the past in a shift from threat-based to capabilities-based thinking. While researchers are examining areas such as avionics, materials and nanotechnology, military leaders are exploring how cutting-edge developments can move more quickly from the laboratory to the field.
Industry is focusing on how to reduce computer system complexity by modeling the human body's autonomic nervous system. From servers to software, researchers are building all components of the infrastructure based on the same characteristics-regulation and protection of key functions without conscious involvement. Autonomic computers will make more decisions on their own and require less human intervention.
A new generation of autonomous, problem-solving robots will soon be entering commercial service. Recent advances in computer processing power have allowed researchers to design prototype machines that can navigate in unfamiliar surroundings unassisted. Using a variety of sensors, the robot creates a constantly updated three-dimensional map as it goes through its routine. It is this self-navigation that is finally placing mobile robotic systems on the verge of commercial viability, scientists say.
The race is on for super-advanced, beyond-next-generation technologies. Vying for a cash prize of $1 million, teams of engineers, software developers and car enthusiasts are taking on the challenge to create totally autonomous robotic ground vehicles that can travel from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on a designated course within a specified amount of time. The competition is part of a new program the military has developed to tap into the ingenuity of inventors throughout the United States who will design seemingly impossible capabilities that one day may be as commonplace in military operations as Predators.
The U.S. Navy is using virtual reality to build better warships. By molding data into three-dimensional images with cutting-edge computer systems, engineers can identify potential trouble spots on a vessel's hull and share the information with other design teams around the country. Virtual imaging systems allow engineers to evaluate many different hull types before expensive model testing or full-scale trials occur.
U.S. Defense Department researchers are developing software that may be capable of accurately understanding the nuances of human language. The technology promises to greatly enhance a spectrum of computer-based systems-from commercial Web browsers and personal virtual assistants to advanced intelligence gathering and command and control systems.