Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sci-fi Armor, Made Real

The next generation of armour is almost here. Good thing, because so's the next generation of weapons. I'm not sure yet if we've got anything that will stop an alien invasion or zombie plague, but the following have all been announced within the last six months (or updated, anyway):
  • Dragon Skin® smart armor*, made of overlapping ceramic and titanium scales that dissipates bullet impacts, identifies bullets by the kind of impact, generates its own electricity through piezoelectrics, and predicts its own failure. Useful for both people and vehicles, but who else is seeing a flying flamethrower modeled on a lizard? Just me? Okay then.
  • Armor to target "X-threats"**, which are exactly what they sound like: threats that haven't been discovered yet—though probably they mean better bullets. The armor takes the form of plates (not the dinner kind) made of the same materials as current ones, but somehow stronger.
  • Stab-proof vests*** inspired by a deep-sea snail that uses a three-layer shell design to protect itself from getting eaten (iron sulphide followed by sponginess followed by calcium carbonate). Replace  the iron sulphide with iron-based nanoparticles and voilĂ ! Material that can protect anything that comes in contact with sharp, pointy things.****
  • Body armor made from cotton fibers dipped in boron solution, to produce flexible, lightweight fabric that stops just about anything. As Dr. Xiaodong Li, who co-authored the article on the stuff, suggests, this could be used not just for protecting our bodies, but also on our vehicles and planes—and it stops most UV light, too. Pretty impressive, though I'm betting you'd have to be covered in the stuff to avoid grenade damage, and you'd have absolutely no luck against missiles. (Boron carbide, by the way, is used for tanks and bulletproof vests.)
That last one also conjures images of a very scary future where all our clothing, and possibly all our buildings, are made of this stuff just from necessity. No clue why we'd need that level of protection, but there you go.

* Engadget
**** I'd quote NewScientist's ideas on applications, except they want me to contact their syndication department first.

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