August 15, 2016

Progress toward real life super-soldiers

For three years ago U.S. Special Operations Command and DARPA announced they had started work on a super-soldier suit called TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit) unlike anything in the history of warfare. It is engineered with full-body ballistics protection; integrated heating and cooling systems; embedded sensors, antennas, and computers; 3D audio (to indicate where a fellow warfighter is by the sound of his voice); optics for vision in various light conditions; life-saving oxygen and hemorrhage controls; and more.

It aims to be “fully functional” by 2018. “I am here to announce that we are building Iron Man,” President Barack Obama said of the suit during a manufacturing innovation event in 2014. When the president said, “This has been a secret project we’ve been working on for a long time,” he wasn’t kidding.

In 1999 DARPA created the Defense Sciences Office (DSO) and made Michael Goldblatt its director. Goldblatt saw the creation of the super-soldier as imperative to 21st-century warfare.

Goldblatt ran the DSO until 2004, and when he spoke to me last year, he could only describe unclassified programs. More than 10 years after his departure, the status of the “super-soldier” pursuits he helped launch is murky; DARPA’s highest-risk, highest-payoff programs remain secret until they are unveiled on the battlefield. Still, given the progress of the exoskeleton, these or similar programs could be closer to reality than anyone realizes.

TALOS exoskeleton mockup



One program in the DSO, called Persistence in Combat, addressed three areas that slowed soldiers down on the battlefield: pain, wounds, and excessive bleeding.


This picture is illustrative fictional super soldier

Goldblatt hired a biotechnology firm to develop a pain vaccine. If a soldier got shot, Goldblatt explained, the vaccine would “reduce the pain triggered by inflammation and swelling,” the desired result being “10 to 30 seconds of agony then no pain for 30 days.” Such a vaccine would allow the warfighter to keep fighting so long as bleeding could be stopped. To develop new ways to try to stop bleeding, Goldblatt initiated another program that involved injecting millions of microscopic magnets into a person, which could later be brought together into a single area to stop bleeding with the wave of a wand.

Another idea was to find a way to get a wounded soldier to go into a kind of hibernation, or suspended animation, until help arrived. Achieving this goal would give a soldier precious hours, or even days, to survive blood loss and avoid going into shock while awaiting evacuation or triage. Bears hibernate. Why can’t man? Could a chemical compound produce such a state?

In the Continually Assisted Performance program, scientists worked on ways to create a “24/7 soldier,” one who required little or no sleep for up to seven days. If this could be achieved, an enemy’s need for sleep would put him at an extreme disadvantage. Goldblatt’s program managers hired marine biologists studying certain sea animals to look for clues. Whales and dolphins don’t sleep; as mammals, they would drown if they did. Unlike humans, they are somehow able to control the lobes of their left and right brains so that while one lobe sleeps, the opposite lobe stays awake, allowing the animal to swim. While some DARPA scientists ruminated over the question of how humans might one day control the lobes of their own brains, other scientists experimented with drugs like Modafinil, a powerful medication used to counter sleep apnea and narcolepsy, to keep warfighters awake.

Other programs explored other questions. What if soldiers could have 10 times the muscle endurance of enemy soldiers? What if they could leap seven feet or do 300 pull-ups a day?

Under the DSO banner, in a program called the Brain-Machine Interface, DARPA scientists studied how brain implants could enhance cognitive ability. The program’s first goal was to create “a wireless brain modem for a freely moving rat,” DARPA’s Eric Eisenstadt stated at a technology conference in 2002.The scientists would implant a chip in the rat’s brain to see if they could remotely control the animal’s movements.


SOURCE- The Atlantic


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