Technology and the Future Warrior: Protecting Soldiers in the 21st Century
Steve Altes, Jean-Louis De Gay and Edwin L. Thomas
September 23, 2004
The Super Soldier has one foot out of the lab, and will be reporting for battle by 2020. “Dutch” DeGay’s Army researchers have begun to “rebuild the soldier from the skin out.” Current infantrymen, stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, must shoot, move and communicate carrying upwards of 100 pounds of personal armor and equipment. DeGay’s team aims not only to lighten the load, but integrate this soldier into a larger ground and air network. The warrior’s new helmet will house radio and night vision gear, GPS antenna, target illuminator, tactical dropdown eyewear, and will convey data, video and audio feeds for “a 3D picture of the battlefield… in the chaos of battle.” New, ceramic-impregnated body armor can take a strike, evenly absorb the shock, then deform in space without ever touching human skin. Says DeGay, “Comfort has never been part of the paradigm, but now armor will protect and be comfortable.” Steve Altes believes that the next generation of battle gear will go even further to enhance the soldier’s survivability, through the “magic of nanotechnology.” These tiny, molecular building blocks can confer revolutionary properties on everyday materials, such as fabrics.
Ned Thomas’ MIT researchers are looking at ways of transforming the battle suit with a range of smart textiles that will: become rigid when necessary (for instance, create a splint for a broken leg); sense chemical or biological threats and protect a soldier automatically; determine the cause of an injury and administer medicine; and someday, recycle sweat to serve as potable water and as a body cooling device. Thomas says that “some products are already bearing nanofruit,” such as a conducting polymer that can detect TNT, in use now in Iraq.
About the Speakers
Steve Altes '84, SM '86
National Medal of Technology Screenwriter
Steve Altes '84 earned three degrees (a bachelor's and two masters) from MIT. He received the National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest award for engineering achievement, for his work on Pegasus, the world's first privately-developed space launch vehicle. He is the author of two books and his work has appeared in such places as Salon, The Washington Post, u>The Los Angeles Times, and The Christian Science Monitor. Altes currently resides in Los Angeles, where he optioned an MIT-themed screenplay to a major Hollywood producer this year.
Jean-Louis De Gay
U.S. Army Future Force Warrior Technology Program Office (FFW TPO)
DeGay develops new items for soldiers, and addresses all systems that interact with the soldier. He also runs the Future Force Warrior Outreach Program. Before joining FFW TPO, DeGay was with the Marine Corps Customer Team working on clothing and individual items for soldiers. He was a Captain with 10 years of service in the United States Army in a number of assignments. DeGay has a B.A. from the University of Georgia and is currently studying for his M.S. at Western New England College. He is a graduate of, among others, Airborne School, the Bradley Leader's Course and Ranger School from his time in the military.
Edwin L. Thomas
Director, Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies Morris Cohen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, MIT School of Engineering
Edwin Thomas is Director of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, a $50 million collaboration between the United States Army, MIT, and corporate partners. At ISN, he is co-leader of two teams focused on energy absorbing materials and the integration and transitioning of technology systems. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, and a Ph.D. in Materials Science from Cornell University. He received the National Science Foundation’s Special Creativity Award in 1996 and 1988, the High Polymer Physics Prize of the American Physical Society, and the American Chemical Society’s Creative Polymer Chemist Award. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.