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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 07:58 GMT 08:58 UK
US looks to create robo-soldier
A soldier
Today's soldiers carry tons of equipment
Jane Wakefield

The soldier of the future could be able to leap buildings, heal his own wounds, deflect bullets and become invisible.

These are just some of the futuristic plans of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which has been selected by the US army to create the battlefield equivalent of Robocop.

The $50m research centre will be known as the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN).

Among the goals of the newly-created ISN will be gadgets that can heal soldiers, uniforms that are nearly invisible and clothing that can become a rigid cast when a soldier breaks his or her leg.


Imagine the psychological impact upon a foe when encountering squads of seemingly invincible warriors

Professor Ned Thomas, ISN
An exoskeleton could be developed to provide protection from bullets, transform into a medical cast and even activate an offensive weapon.

Shoes with built-in power packs could release bursts of energy to endow the soldier with super-strength and agility.

With a nod to the durability of medieval armour, the institute will also develop a futuristic light-weight chain mail, made up of molecular materials.

Psychological warfare

The soldier of the future will not only be protected, but present a greater threat to the enemy said director of the ISN Professor Ned Thomas.

"Imagine the psychological impact upon a foe when encountering squads of seemingly invincible warriors, protected by armour and endowed with superhuman capabilities, such as the ability to leap over 20-foot walls," he said.

The ISN will be staffed by 150 people, including 35 MIT professors, 80 graduate students as well as specialists from the army.

Reducing weight

The research group will focus on six key areas:

  • threat detection
  • threat neutralisation such as bullet-proof clothing
  • concealment
  • enhanced human performance,
  • real-time automated medical treatment
  • reducing the weight of equipment from today's 145-pound loads to the 45 pounds carried by Roman soldiers
MIT already has a history of helping out the army in times of war.

During World War II, large-scale research at MIT's Radiation Laboratory was devoted to the rapid development of microwave radar.

The lab designed almost half of the radar deployed in World War II, created over 100 different radar systems, and constructed $1.5 billion worth of radar.

And at the time of the Cold War, the university developed guidance systems for missiles.

Many of the technologies being developed at MIT for the soldier of the future will not be available for at least a decade.

See also:

28 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
25 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
18 Jan 02 | Science/Nature
19 Dec 01 | Science/Nature
21 Sep 01 | Science/Nature
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