DARPA today has a long-term, $3 billion program to help make such a “Metabolically Dominant Soldier.” In other words, the military is studying how to use technology and biology to meld man and machine and transcend the limits of the human body. Described the project director, “My measure of success is that the International Olympic Committee bans everything we do” The $3 billion program is definitely trying to achieve transhuman performance goals.
The wearable gear would enable running at 100 meter olympic sprinter speed for hours and the 7 foot vertical leap, the wall crawling, personal flight, invisibility, greatly enhanced strength, better body armor and carrying bigger and more powerful weapons.
Coverage of the billion and soon to be multi-billion dollar transgenic medical, agriculture, industrial industry. [Mixing genes between animals to make cheaper drugs or for more productive agriculture]
The drugs and genetic enhancements and some technology which gets applied would allow for regeneration, faster healing, muscle strength enhancement up to current olympic levels, endurance of an Alaskan sled dog, cognitive enhancement, operate without sleep for many days without performance degradation, the metabolic energy of twenty year old for a forty or fifty year old and immunity to pain.
The Metabolically Dominant Soldier program is managed by Joe Bielitzki. He is talking about fixing your cells so that you could live off your fat. Bielitzki acknowledges the potential for spin-off technologies. “Forty billion dollars a year goes into the weight loss industry in this country,” he muses. “This will change it.”
Regeneration, better healing, better immune systems would all revolutionize healthcare costs and healthcare effectiveness. So trillions in economic benefit as a side effect of supersoldier success. DARPA is also trying to enhance cognition, training and giving the energy levels of youth to the elderly. Those could provide multi-billion or even trillion dollar per year boosts to the US and world economy.
Projects in pipeline range from drugs that will boost muscles and energy by a factor of 10, akin to steroids…on steroids (the project is jokingly termed the “Energizer Bunny in Fatigues”) to wearable, cooling gloves that regulate body temperature and prevent soldiers from getting overheated (and thus tired) even on the hottest desert day. [Keeping the body cool increases endurance]
A major focus is on helping the soldier’s body to better deal with trauma and damage. One such is the “pain vaccines” coming out of a program at Rinat Neuroscience [Pfizer acquired Rinat Neuroscience in 2006]. Researchers are hopeful these “will block the sense of pain for almost a month,” describes DARPA’s Michael Goldblatt.
The substance does is block intense pain in less than 10 seconds. Its effects last for 30 days. It doesn’t stifle your reactions. If you touch a hot stove, you still have the initial shock; your hand will still automatically jerk away. But after that, the torment is gone. The product works on the inflammatory response that is responsible for the majority of subacute pain. If you get shot, you feel the bullet, but after that, the inflammation and swelling that trigger agony are substantially reduced. The company has already hit its first milestones in animal testing and is preparing reports for scientific conferences.
The plan is for new body armor that, instead of Kevlar, is filled with nano-materials that are connected to a computer. [Computer controlled liquid armor] It would normally be as flexible as regular uniform made of fabric. But, like how a crash-bag works inside a car, it would activate whenever the system detects a bullet strike and turn as hard as steel in an instant.
Gloves could turn into real-life brass knuckles.
The fabric could even be woven in with “nanomuscle fibers” that simulate real muscles, giving soldiers more an estimated “25 to 35 percent better lifting capability.” So myostatin strength boost to get to olympic athlete strength levels and then 25-35% boost from a soft suit. Use better exoskeletons for more strength enhancement.
From deflecting bullets to powers of invisibility, as military analyst Max Boot writes, such a suit truly “would give ordinary mortals many of the attributes of comic book superheroes.
Our wimpy little Achilles tendons allow the average human to run somewhere between 6 to 8 miles an hour and, unless your name is LeBron James, leap only a few feet in the air. New “bionic boots” and “spring walkers” in development are hoped to solve this. These attach outside the leg and mechanically mimic the enlarged Achilles tendon of a kangaroo, one day perhaps giving the wearer the ability to run as fast as 25 miles per hour and leap 7 feet.
The “Z-Man project.” Creating gecko inspired gloves and boots for wall crawling.
Exoskeleton flying vehicle with a maximum speed of maximum Speed 113 mph, range of 184 miles and endurance of endurance 2.2+ hours.
The Mesoscopic Integrated Conformal Electronics (MICE) program has already succeeded in printing electronic circuits on the frames of eyeglasses and helmets, weaving them into clothes, even putting them on insects. These include electronics, antennas, fuel cells, batteries and solar cells.
The Biological Input/Output Systems program is designed to enable plants, microbes and small animals to serve as “remote sentinels for reporting the presence of chemical or biological” particles. They’d do this by changing color, lighting up fluorescently, dropping their leaves or changing the color of their flowers.
The Brain-Machine Interface program is investigating how you would put wireless modems into people’s skulls.
And that’s just the Defense Sciences Office, the department of DARPA most directly involved with human enhancement. Meanwhile, on the floor where the Information Processing Technology Office (IPTO) resides, its director, Ron Brachman, former research vice president at AT&T Labs and previously at Bell Labs, and president of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, wants to complete DARPA’s vision from the sixties. When the original IPTO was created in 1962, its director, J.C.R. Licklider, focused the office on his novel conception of computers and humans working in symbiosis. That idea resulted in the Internet. Now the new IPTO “wants to realize this vision by giving computing systems unprecedented abilities to reason, to learn, to explain, to accept advice, and to reflect, in order to finally create systems able to cope robustly with unforeseen circumstances,” according to Brachman. The object of the game is to produce machines—and the italics are his—“that truly know what they’re doing.
A project is regarded as “DARPA-esque” only if few others would tackle it, but it would be earth-jolting if it did work. DARPA’s attitude is if an idea looks like a sure thing, let somebody else fund it. The “special focus area” is for really extreme projects.
Darpa supports the Raytheon Sarcos XOS exoskeleton
Of the three teams that took part in a seven year $75 million project (Sarcos, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the University of California at Berkeley), the XOS emerged in 2005 as the suit closest to the agency’s initial vision. It is the only full exoskeleton the military has moved into the next development stage; Sarcos is now working under a two-year, $10-million Army grant.
The country’s other two top exoskeleton designers, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Hugh Herr and Homayoon Kazerooni of the University of California at Berkeley, began with the power problem.
Herr is trying to build a leg-powering machine that uses as little energy as possible—the first iteration draws a mere two watts, comparable to a portable radio—but can support 80 percent of an 80-pound load on a user’s back. Herr thinks that within the near future, he can improve the mechanics so that the machine actually saves the wearer effort.
Kazerooni has made the Human Load Carrier (HULC) which is a lower-body exoskeleton that can operate for more than 20 hours without recharging. He says it allows the user to carry 100 pounds on his back and burn 15 percent less oxygen than if he was supporting the added weight alone. A three-year, $2-million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology is being used to modify as a wheelchair replacement.
Currently : the Army issued the Improved Outer Tactical Vest, a redesigned version of Interceptor body armor, starting in late 2006. The soft body armor protects against 9mm ammunition and fragmentation. IOTV is also equipped with front, rear and side armor plates known as Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts. When worn together, the IOTV will stop 7.62mm armor-piercing rounds.
Several vendors have demonstrated they can produce body armor that can outperform the protection offered by IOTV with ESAPI.
The Land Warrior system was sent in to battle in spring 2007 with the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 4th (Stryker) Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. At that time the deployed system weighed 10 pounds (down from 17 pounds). The weight has been dropped to seven pounds, and they expect to reduce it even further.
Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier was created by the Army with one primary purpose: to develop the best equipment and field it as quickly as possible so that our Soldiers remain second to none in missions that span the full spectrum of military operations. PEO soldier currently has 400 programs.
The Soldier Enhancement Program (SEP) is to identify and evaluate commercially available individual weapons, munitions, optics, combat clothing, individual equipment, water supply, shelters, communication and navigational aids which can be adopted and provided to Soldiers in three years or less.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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