Today’s dismounted infantry soldier often packs more than 140 pounds and still has incomplete ballistic protection, insufficient defense against chemical and biological weapons, and too many pieces of equipment that do not work well together, according to officials at the U.S. Army Research Office’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. Reducing the cumbersome weight that soldiers lug around on the battlefield is a major priority for the Army, which is intent on transforming itself into a lighter, more flexible 21st century force. Research being conducted at the institute one day could help transform current combat fatigues and bulky equipment into a do-it-all battle uniform that not only is lightweight but also provides many other benefits.
Autonomous robots soon could be equipped with electronic noses that perceive the chemical signatures of explosives, chemical and biological weapons, and even humans. A portable micro gas chromatograph system is being designed to fit on a dime-size chip so it can be incorporated into unmanned systems without adding significant weight or increasing space or energy requirements. Work is underway on several fronts, including perfecting the sensor itself and experimenting with it on robotic platforms that could be in the field later this decade.
Scientists working for the U.S. Navy are exploring a raft of new energy technologies designed both to wean the sea service off its reliance on traditional fossil fuels and to provide new sources of power for ships that will require ever greater amounts of electricity.