Nanotech ‘battle suits’ could amplify soldiers’ powers

On the other spectrum of advancing technology, it’s obvious that once again this will most likely be developed and put into use first by the Military.

As hollow-eyed troops laden with 75-pound packs slogged through a downpour before shipping out to Kuwait, nine MIT professors watching them in the rural Louisiana training field were asking questions like: How could those loads be made lighter?

And what about making the soldiers impervious to infection? Invulnerable to bullets? Able to leap small buildings in a single bound?

For these self-described “crazy MIT guys,” those questions are not wild geek imaginings inspired by some superhero comic. It’s their job.

The professors who visited the Fort Polk training center in January are at the vanguard of a military initiative to harness the potential of the emerging field of nanotechnology. Its object is to make U.S. forces vastly more mobile, more flexible, and more invincible.

Nanotechnology, the art of precisely controlling the molecular composition of materials down to the level of a few nanometers, or billionths of a meter, is expected to yield products with unprecedented properties and power. Consumers may already be aware of a few commercial nanotech products

The MIT group is experimenting with nanotech fibers and patches that could one day trap bioweapon germs on the outer surface of a uniform, capture the energy of the sun, transmit signals on the medical condition of troops, or even confer superhuman strength.

Although the military is carrying out research on other nanotechnology applications, such as durable coatings for navy ships, the MIT institute focuses on the equipment of the individual, dismounted soldier who needs to be as light and self-sufficient as possible.

Thomas said a future “battle suit” could be more like a car than mere camouflage-and-khaki clothing — with options like radio communication, heating and air conditioning, bulletproof shields and bionic-man-like tools built in.