Top Ten Tech! IDGA’s List of the Coolest Gadgets, Inventions, and Tools for Defense
Contributor: IDGA Staff Posted: 03/21/2012 12:00:00 AM EDT | 2
Technological developments for and by US defense organizations are vital drivers to military success, creating greater security for US forces, and by extension, the American people.
But a lot of this new and emerging technology—and its related corresponding applications—are often genuine marvels of imagination, design, and engineering, that are impressive to behold for those reasons alone.
That is, they’re just really cool.
The fact of the matter is that some recent advancements in military technology are simply astounding. So, with the gee-whiz spirit that made this country great, IDGA presents a round-up of some of the top inventions, innovations and soon-to-be deployed technologies being developed by and with the armed services that made our staff sit back and say, “wow.”
LIKE CATS & DOGS
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in partnership with Boston Dynamics, has created a robotic Cheetah that recently set the land speed record for a legged robot.
The use of ground robots in military explosive-ordnance-disposal missions already saves many lives and prevents thousands of other casualties. DARPA notes that if current limitations on mobility and manipulation capabilities of robots can be overcome, robots could much more effectively assist warfighters across a greater range of missions.
This video shows a demonstration of the “Cheetah” robot galloping at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour (mph), which shattered the previous record of 13.1 mph, set nearly a quarter-century ago.
DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program seeks to create and demonstrate significant scientific and engineering advances in robot mobility and manipulation capabilities. The M3 program pursues four parallel tracks of research and development: tool design, improvement of production methods and processes, improvement in control of robot mobility and manipulation, and prototype demonstration.
The robot’s movements are patterned after those of fast-running animals in nature. The robot increases its stride and running speed by flexing and un-flexing its back on each step, much as an actual cheetah does. The current version of the Cheetah robot runs on a laboratory treadmill where it is powered by an off-board hydraulic pump, and uses a boom-like device to keep it running in the center of the treadmill. Testing of a free-running prototype is planned for later this year.
While the M3 program conducts basic research and is not focused on specific military missions, the technology it aims to develop could have a wide range of potential military applications.
The new Cheetah Robot is the latest animatronic creation to come out of DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation program. It is the fastest four-legged robot in the world, and it can reach speeds of 18 miles-per-hour; the previous land-speed record for a four-legged robot was 13.1mph set by MIT in 1989.
The Cheetah has a specially designed articulating back that flexes back and forth with each step. This allows the Cheetah to extend its stride and increase its running speed. So far, Boston Dynamics has only tested the robot on its indoor treadmill with a boom to keep it centered.
And they’re not stopping there. “While 18 mph is a good start, our goal is to get Cheetah running much faster and outdoors,” reads a statement from Boston Dynamics’ chief roboticist Alfred Rizzi. “We designed the treadmill to go over 50 mph, but we plan to get off the treadmill and into the field as soon as possible. We really want to understand the limits of what is possible for fast-moving robots.”
While Cheetah we have to call this a tie with BigDog. BigDog goes where it wants.
BigDog is described as the “alpha male” by its creators at Boston Dynamics. It is a rough-terrain robot that walks, runs, climbs and carries heavy loads. BigDog is powered by an engine that drives a hydraulic actuation system. BigDog has four legs that are articulated like an animal’s, with compliant elements to absorb shock and recycle energy from one step to the next. BigDog is the size of a large dog or small mule; about 3 feet long, 2.5 feet tall and weighs 240 lbs.
BigDog’s on-board computer controls locomotion, servos the legs and handles a variety of sensors. BigDog’s control system keeps it balanced, navigates, and regulates its energetics as conditions vary. Sensors for locomotion include joint position, joint force, ground contact, ground load, a gyroscope, LIDAR and a stereo vision system. Other sensors focus on the internal state of BigDog, monitoring the hydraulic pressure, oil temperature, engine functions, battery charge and others.
In separate tests BigDog runs at 4 mph, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walks across rubble, climbs a muddy hiking trail, walks in snow and water, and carries a 340 lb load. BigDog set a world’s record for legged vehicles by traveling 12.8 miles without stopping or refueling.
The ultimate goal for BigDog is to develop a robot that can go anywhere people and animals can go. The program is funded by the Tactical Technology Office at DARPA.
Engineers have fired the Navy’s first industry-built electromagnetic railgun (EM Railgun) prototype launcher at a test facility, commencing an evaluation that is an important intermediate step toward a future tactical weapon for ships.
The EM Railgun launcher is a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants. Magnetic fields created by high electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor, or armature, between two rails to launch projectiles at 4,500 mph to 5,600 mph.
The firing at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) kicks test series by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to evaluate the first of two industry-built launchers. The tests will bring the Navy closer to a new naval gun system capable of extended ranges against surface, air and ground targets.
BAE Systems developed the prototype for the first test. “We’ve been working on this for a number of years, so it’s pretty exciting,” said John Perry, Director of Navy Programs for BAE Systems.
“We’re going to be ramping up to muzzle energies that could potentially launch projectiles to a hundred miles plus,” said Mr. Perry, adding that “the next step will be to create the ability to handle multiple rounds.” The Navy is moving ahead with the EM Railgun program’s next phase: to develop thermal management systems for both the launcher and pulsed power to facilitate increased firing rates of up to 10 rounds per minute.
The accuracy of the weapon is aided by a military-grade GPS. “You’re essentially going to hit what you’re targeting with that technology,” said Mr. Perry. He noted that while the primary customer for the rail gun is currently the Navy (through the Office of Naval Research), he adds that “I think that the Army is keeping a close eye.”
“We are starting our full-energy tests to evaluate the barrel life and structural integrity of the prototype system,” said Roger Ellis, program manager of the EM Railgun, part of ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. “It’s the next step toward a future tactical system.”
The prototype demonstrator, built by BAE Systems, has 32-megajoule of energy—one megajoule of energy is equivalent to a 1-ton car being thrust at 100 mph. The prototype—which now looks more like a naval weapon compared to previous lab-style launchers—is the first of two industry-built launchers to be delivered to the Navy.
The other launcher has been developed by General Atomics (GA), which will be similarly tested. General Atomics notes that “with the advantages of hypervelocity launch at speeds in excess of seven times the speed of sound, EM Railgun provides game changing possibilities for both long range Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) of missions far inland (+200 nautical miles) and for ship defense. The advantages for NSFS include elimination of energetics (propellant and high explosives) because the terminal velocity provides sufficient lethality due to high kinetic energy, which translates to significant improvements in ship survivability and a much reduced logistics tail, elimination of unexploded ordnance, and the potential for reduced collateral damage due to the focused nature of energy release.”
In the case of ship defense, the launch package can reach the horizon in seconds. This allows for engagement of threats much quicker and farther away than current systems, having the ability to replace multiple systems in the current layered defense approach, with the potential for reduction in the cost to defeat multiple threats by several orders of magnitude, and with a much deeper magazine than alternative approaches.
In addition, GA is developing next generation pulsed power systems that provide mobility and are self contained to operate within a “proving ground” environment using next generation high energy density topologies and components.
NO NEED TO ASK DIRECTIONS….
At first it appears to be a featureless sheet of plastic.
But shine a flashlight on it, and it suddenly becomes a startlingly vivid holographic map—visible to all, without the need of 3D glasses.
Michael A. Klug, CTO for Zebra Imaging, Inc., says that the technology has the ability to produce a holograph of any content, be it a car, a house, a bridge, or a mountain. The mapping works equally well for an urban area or more rural, rugged terrain.
The maps are part of the Tactical Battlefield Visualization program, run by the Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence (G-2).
Using these holograms, soldiers can significantly enhance their situational awareness of the area of operations, through mapping that offers radically superior detail than 2-D maps. The maps are scratch-resistant and can be rolled up and carried. To activate or see the 3-D imaging, soldiers just have to shine a flashlight on the map.
The value of these maps will only grow, noted Mr. Klug, as more information is gathered through LIDAR (Laser Identification Detection and Ranging). LIDAR may be used to to scan buildings, rock formations, etc., to produce a 3D model. The LIDAR can aim its laser beam in a wide range: its head rotates horizontally, a mirror flips vertically. The laser beam is used to measure the distance to the first object on its path.
The next stage, said Mr. Klug, will offer even greater interactivity and value. The next level will allow the viewer to zoom in and out, and annotate areas of the 3D map. “If there’s something going on within a mountain range, you can just write on the mountain,” said Mr. Klug. This capability would allow 3-D images to be updated in real time using data and satellite imagery.
Zebra Imaging offers a range of holographic maps, he said. The lowest echelon, he said, while not as sophisticated as some others, provides valuable mapping for soldiers without a debilitating price tag if the map become lost of stolen. Any classified data is separated from the visual in that event as well. This map, measuring 2 feet by 3 feet, sells for $2K.
BE AFRAID. BE VERY AFRAID.
The GHOST is a combination of stealth fighter aircraft and attack helicopter technologies packaged in a marine platform. (Oh, is that all?)
The Portsmouth, NH-based Juliet Marine developed the Ghost without government funding. The vessel reportedly works through the creation of an artificial underwater gaseous environment that creates 900 times less hull friction than water, with ghost technology capable of adapting to manned or unmanned, surface or submerged applications.
While the GHOST is a surface vessel, the hydrodynamics of the twin submerged buoyant tubular foils are also a test bed for Juliet Marine’s next planned prototype, a long duration UUV. These vessels would create a protective fleet perimeter, providing sensor and weapons platforms, allowing no surface or subsurface intrusions.
The same capabilities that have made helicopters valuable to get to hard to reach locations fast, will apply to the
GHOST in commercial applications in the maritime environment. Crew rotations or resupply runs for critical items to off-shore oil rigs can be accomplished two to three times faster than the craft currently in use, and the company maintains would be far less expensive and have fewer weather restrictions than using helicopter assets. The GHOST is two to three times as fast as most ferries in use today.
According to Juliet Marine, “any Navy possessing GHOST technology could operate in international waters undetected and would have an overwhelming advantage against conventional ships.
GHOST technology is scalable and JMS is currently discussing a plan to build a larger Corvette-sized vessel (150 feet). GHOST can carry thousands of pounds of weapons, including Mark 48 torpedoes.
PLAY THE SIMS
IEDs have been far and away the biggest threat to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
New simulators have been created to counter this threat, through the Army’s Counter-IED Collective and Individual Mounted Training Program.
The program is straightforward: soldiers are placed in a simulated armored vehicle, as high definition video surrounds them. Sound is added to the experience, as are other variances that might occur, such as explosions or poor visibility. The simulation is designed to acclimate soliders to the physical and mental challenges that they will face in theater, within the confines of a safe training environment.
The program was designed by R.L Leaders, headquarted in Van Nuys, CA. The specs are impressive: a270-degree theater-quality screen with a 7-1 sound system, and a Humvee perched atop a hydraulic system makes the IEDBE Reality Trainer a cross between a giant, super high production video game and a flight or crash simulator. The experience can deliver up to 8 Gs of force.
The training uses cinematic-quality production as well as the immersive experience of theme park rides to achieve two goals: 1) creating a sense of heighten situational awareness and 2) delivering as close to an actual IED event to soldiers as possible before they experience it for real. Numerous scenarios can be inserted on the fly, depending on soldiers response.
To date, the company reports that several thousand soldiers have been trained using the IEDBD Reality Trainer with an exceptional rating of those surveyed at over 90%
“This exercise made it feel like a real world situation, the best simulator I’ve gone through so far on Fort Campbell,” said one soldier. In addition to providing training on IED awareness, soldiers can gain a better understanding of other aspects generation situational awareness. Scenarios are recorded for post-training review, to analyze any missteps to rectify in the future.
Jaw-dropping training simulation innovations don’t stop there. Raytheon has partnered Motion Reality, the Marietta, Georgia firm that provided some of the technology used to animate characters in films such as “Avatar” to produce built a mixed-reality “fight simulator” called VIRTSIM.
The apps leverage MRI’s VIRTSIM motion-capture technology, which is capable of immersing up to 12 subjects wearing wireless head-mounted displays and using actual or simulated weapons.
The environment combines real objects with computer-generated images such as buildings or opposing forces. If trainees are “shot,” or trigger a virtual bomb, they will receive a strong electrical shock.
“This real-time, untethered experience is enhanced by muscle stimulation technology,” said MRI’s CEO Dr. Tom McLaughlin, “and the systems can be networked from multiple locations for distributed training.”
Dr. McLaughlin added that the technology “is unrivaled in its ability to accurately capture full-body 3-D motion. The immersive 360-degree systems support force-on-force training and virtual artificially intelligent avatars that respond to actions and voice commands.”
All participants’ movements are recorded so that trainees can review their actions and reactions to the presented scenarios.
The Air Force has ramped up its simulation technology as well, awarding Lockheed Martin a contract to upgrade weapons systems trainers used in the C-130 Aircrew Training System (ATS) II.
The C-130 ATS II program provides a comprehensive academic and simulation training program for C-130 aircrews worldwide. The visual system and imagery databases in the weapons systems simulators will be updated to provide the most advanced and realistic training. The improvements are scheduled to take place through 2014.
“The C-130 training effort continuously evolves with advancements in technology to effectively prepare aircrews for their high precision tactical airlift missions. C-130 aircrews participate in critical military, civilian and humanitarian aid operations, and our goal is to keep aircrews mission ready,” said Stephen Grotjan, C-130 ATS program manager for the U.S. Air Force Materiel Command.
The new visual system will provide enhanced illumination in the cockpit, advanced visual scenes and the latest infrared-enabled night vision training. The visual databases will also be upgraded to the same used by the new C- 130J Maintenance and Aircrew Training System, furthering interoperability across aircrew training.
“Lockheed Martin is focused on affordable yet innovative and effective training for the men and women who operate the C-130,” said Jim Weitzel, vice president for training and engineering services in Lockheed Martin’s Global Training and Logistics business. “This effort will extend the training systems’ lifecycle while adding new capabilities.”
Lockheed Martin now also regularly offers simulations of real battles, which are augmented by interviews with participating soldiers. These simulations provide other soldiers with material to learn from any mistakes in previous battles, or to emulate successful actions.
This eyewear can do more than block UAV rays. They are being developed by Vuzix Corporation, with their efforts funded through Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) Program.
The funding will go towards research and development of a next generation holographic optical display system for use by Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC). A JTAC is the term used for a qualified military service member who, from a forward position, directs the action of combat aircraft engaged in close air support and other offensive air operations.
Vuzix, based in Rochester, NY, has designed and recently started production deliveries of similar but current generation devices for the Battlefield Air Operations Kit (BAO). PCAS will fund the development of a high definition (HD) micro display and a see-through holographic optic. This technology is based on Vuzix’ patented Blade Optical system.
PCAS will significantly increase CAS capabilities for both the JTAC and airborne platforms by developing a system of technologies that provides continuous CAS availability and lethality to the supported ground commander. PCAS will be a ‘system-of-systems’ approach demonstrating the ability to digitally task a CAS platform from the ground. The system will also be designed to reduce collateral damage and potential fratricide to friendly forces. Enabling technologies are: manned/unmanned airborne platforms, next generation graphical user interfaces, data links, digital guidance and control, and advanced targeting and visualization tools.
The system will provide “a competitive step-up for our military personnel,” said Paul Travers, CEO of Vuzix. He added that recent advancements in micro display quality, combined with the company’s “Blade Optical” system, “are enabling the delivery of the HD head mounted displays (HMD’s) which will help improve our ground forces’ safety and effectiveness.”
INTO THE WILD BLUE YONDER!
Move over rail gun—this system will catapault planes off a carrier.
The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, (commonly EMALS) is a system under development by the United States Navy to launch carrier-based aircraft from catapults using a linear motor drive instead of conventional steam pistons. This technology reduces stress on airframes because they can be accelerated more gradually to takeoff speed than with steam-powered catapults.
Other advantages includes lower system weight, cost, and maintenance; the ability to launch both heavier and lighter aircraft than conventional systems; and lower requirements for fresh water, reducing the need for energy-intensive desalination.
Compared to steam catapults, EMALS weighs less, occupies less space, requires less maintenance and manpower, is more reliable, and uses less energy. Steam catapults, which use about 614 kilograms of steam per launch, have extensive mechanical, pneumatic, and hydraulic subsystems.
EMALS uses no steam, which makes it suitable for the Navy’s planned all-electric ships. The EMALS could be more easily incorporated into a ramp, which would reduce the aircraft’s takeoff speed and consequently the launch energy required.
Compared to steam catapults, EMALS can control the launch performance with greater precision, allowing it to launch more kinds of aircraft, from heavy fighter jets to light unmanned aircraft. EMALS can also deliver 29 percent more energy than steam’s approximately 95 megajoules, increasing the output to 122 megajoules.
The EMALS will also be more efficient than the 5-percent efficiency of steam catapults.
NOW YOU SEE IT….
From huge aircraft carriers to something much smaller.
AV is developing the Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) under a DARPA sponsored research contract to develop a new class of air vehicle systems capable of indoor and outdoor operation. Employing biological mimicry at an extremely small scale, this unconventional aircraft could someday provide new reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities in urban environments.
The Nano Hummingbird met all, and exceeded many, of the Phase II technical milestones set out by DARPA: Demonstrate precision hover flight.
Demonstrate hover stability in a wind gust flight which required the aircraft to hover and tolerate a two-meter per second (five miles per hour) wind gust from the side, without drifting downwind more than one meter.
Demonstrate a continuous hover endurance of eight minutes with no external power source.
Fly and demonstrate controlled, transition flight from hover to 11 miles per hour fast forward flight and back to hover flight.
Demonstrate flying from outdoors to indoors and back outdoors through a normal-size doorway.
Demonstrate flying indoors ‘heads-down’ where the pilot operates the aircraft only looking at the live video image stream from the aircraft, without looking at or hearing the aircraft directly.
Fly the aircraft in hover and fast forward flight with bird-shaped body and bird-shaped wings.
AND OF COURSE…
Caveat: Currently, the potential interest from US or international military organizations is unclear.
Who cares? It’s a jetpack.
During a recent test of the Martin Jetpack, the Jetpack attained a climb rate of 800 feet per minute and an altitude of 5,000ft before safely deploying the first ballistic jetpack parachute.
“This successful test brings the future another step closer,” said the Jetpack’s Inventor, Glenn Martin.
The record-breaking flight is part of an intensive period of testing for the Jetpack as the Martin Aircraft Company works through the final development phase of the Jetpack’s technologies with the aim to have first deliveries of both the manned and unmanned (UAV) versions to key customers within the next 18 months.
The Martin Jetpack has the ability to fly for half an hour or more, climb more than 1000ft per minute and to cruise at 100 km/h. “In this test we limited the jetpack to 800 ft/min climb so the chase helicopters could keep up,” said Martin.
Another first during the high flight was the world first test of the Jetpack’s Ballistic Parachute safety system. While this test was a verification of the safety system using an off the shelf version; Martin Aircraft believes that with the purpose built Ballistic Parachute they are developing, unlike helicopters, the Jetpack’s avoidance curve can be removed entirely – meaning that with the Martin safety systems there is no height where a catastrophic failure needs to lead to significant injury.
For this high altitude flight the company tested the UAV unmanned version using a weighted dummy simulating a pilot’s weight to demonstrate the Jetpack’s ability to fly high.
“This test also validated our flight model, proved thrust to weight ratio and proved our ability to fly a Jetpack as an unmanned aerial vehicle, which will be key to some of the Jetpack’s future emergency/search & rescue and military applications,” said Mr. Martin.
Martin Aircraft CEO, Richard Lauder said the Christchurch based company is now in an intensive testing period to refine technology in the areas of safety (the Ballistic Parachute), engine performance over extended and continuous hours of operation, and high speed flight stability.
He said all the technologies tested during the high flight performed well and technicians are already working on the next test to push new boundaries of the flight envelope.
Since the public unveiling of the Jetpack at Oshkosh in the US, the company says it has received substantial interest from governments, military and emergency services around the world, along with many in the general aviation sector who are interested in being one of the first to own a jetpack.
Count us in.