- WASHINGTON (UPI) - The Army's
first foray into nanotechnology is to develop an interactive and protective
uniform for soldiers, according to Dr. Michael Andrews, deputy assistant
secretary of the Army for Research and Technology. He spoke to United Press
International on the Army's plans to use nanotechnology and robotics in
- Q. How much is the Army going to use nanotechnology,
say, over the next decade?
- A. The university laboratories have been making pretty
good progress in nanoscience. And technology follows science. Until you
understand the science you can't move into technology efforts. You have
to have equipment to allow for the fabrication of materials and devices
on the nanoscale. So we have to have a good characterization before we
are ready to move into the fabrication and application state. We'll see
progress in the field of materials, new materials and our new Institute
For Soldier Nanotechnology will focus on soldiers' uniforms.
- Our first step is to develop a uniform, using nanoscale
materials to integrate electronics, computer devices and power supply.
And for ballistic protection. For example, today if you want to stop a
.45 caliber bullet you need about 10 to 20 pounds per square foot. Where
we are headed with nanoscience and technology is the ability to stop a
bullet with as much as two or three orders of magnitude less in pounds,
something as thin and light as a piece of paper stopping a .45 caliber
bullet. That's the potential. If we could drop this under one pound per
square foot we've made dramatic progress. So, our mark on the wall is more
than a factor of 10 drop in that ballistic protection. Also, we hope to
get technologies into the marketplace so volumes will grow and prices will
- Q. And nanotechnology will be big in the area of medicine?
- A. I believe so. At the nanoscale, materials might capture
antibiotics you need and control them in a released form. You could conceivably
inject into humans materials that release drugs or prevent infectious diseases.
They could potentially move throughout the body to find problems and communicate
back. Now you're dealing here with a timeframe of about 20 years, but nanotechnology
has the potential to benefit everything in life from the field of medicine
to the military.
- Q. Regarding the field of robotics, what is your emphasis
- A. We just kicked off last week five new programs, one
on robotics, the others covering power and energy, decision aids for soldiers,
displays and wireless communications. The robotics section has 15 industry
and university research groups working in conjunction with the Army Research
Lab, including General Dynamics Robotic Systems and Carnegie Mellon University,
a leading pioneer in the field.
- We are looking forward to full autonomy in robotics systems
to do more of the dangerous work for us. We've proven that a robotic system
can begin to adapt to terrain and make changes and to take alternative
routes. We are also developing what I call a mule, which is a robotic vehicle
that will trail our people and vehicles by following what I call virtual
breadcrumbs or GPS waypoints. We hope to demonstrate such a vehicle in
the next three to four years. It will follow other vehicles at a distance
to carry supplies, missiles in a box or other kinds of fire systems you
- Q. What are some of the challenges of nanoscale science?
- A. Today if you think about what's out there in the semiconductor
industry, Intel chips for example, they make them using a technology known
as lithography. That functions on the sub-micron level, or one-millionth
of an inch scale. What's different is that nanoscience deals with one-billionth
of an inch, about three orders of magnitude smaller. You are down into
a few atoms so you are talking about building in a different fashion. The
features are so much different. That's the catch. By assembling things
on a small scale, you bring out unique properties.
- Q. What other national military complexes are working
- A. I know the Israelis have a nano center and France
has centers they've already established, and there are probably other places
we don't know about. We need to establish a leading edge to capture all
science that's out there in universities and begin to apply it.
- Q. And China? According to some news reports, China is
investing in the area. Have you had any briefings on that or know anything
- A. I have not had briefings.
- Q. Some have argued that nuclear, biological and chemical
weapons were developed under the protective control of governments but
nanotechnology, robotics and genomics, potentially more profound technologies,
are being developed in the private sector where there's less control and
arguably more opportunity for negative applications. Do you agree?
- A. That's an interesting question but that's all it is.
You don't control the private sector. The moment we attempt to do that
is when we lose our ability to be on the leading edge. Technology progresses
rapidly today mostly because research is pretty open but things get tighter
as applications come about, especially in area of the military. We'll protect
the applications as they start to be a problem. But you don't stop working
in technology for fear of the future. Our intent is to develop technology
to solve the nation's problems in the military environment.
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