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Radically Inept
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
  Nanotech and Military apps

A little slow in finding this, but thought many of you might find it of interest. This is from the May 2003 newsletter put out by "Institute for Alternative Futures"
Emerging Issues
Military applications for nanotech in R&D. Military applications of nanotechnology
will develop in three stages, according to Senior Futurist Richard Smith speaking April
22 at the WINFORMS 2nd Joint Symposium. WINFORMS is a DC area operations
research professional organization.
The three stages of development will be passive nanoscale materials, active
nanodevices, and active self-assembled nanosystems. Smith described current R&D
with military applications. The new Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) at MIT
will be staffed by 150 researchers at a cost of $90 million over five years ($50M from the
government and $40M from MIT’s industry partners DuPont, Raytheon, and Mass
General Hospital). The objectives of the ISN are to:
• Create a bullet-deflecting soldier exoskeleton
• Cut the weight of soldiers’ packs from 90 lbs. to 15
• Create clothing that can shield against chemical and biological agents and even
"heal" an injured soldier
• Create networked soldier health sensors
• Develop other innovations like night-vision contact lenses
Nanotech R&D at the Naval Research Lab includes:
• Sensors (e.g., fiber optic chemical and biosensors; high performance structural
sensors)
• Materials (e.g., controlled release antifouling paint additives; machinable ceramic
superconductors; laser direct-writing process)
• Electronics (e.g., advanced silicon-on-insulator technology, microfabricated
electron source)
• Optics (e.g., electrode-less high-intensity light source; portable pulsed x-ray
source)
• Oceanography (e.g., high-resolution seafloor classification survey system;
localization of submerged lost towed body)
• Artificial Intelligence (e.g., machine vision for the integrated autonomous
vehicle)
At this stage, nanotechnology research isn’t risk-free nor intimidating. “Until we have
developed active nanodevices, such as “mechanical solvents”, the risks are not
substantially different from those we are already accustomed to—like asbestos,” Smith
said. In another decade or two, this may not be the case. Informed managers,
researchers and policymakers should begin now to consider what plausible dangers
might lie ahead. A logical first step, Smith said, is to study whether molecular assembly
techniques (MAT) are reasonably likely (as suggested by Eric Drexler), highly unlikely
(believed by many chemists and physicists) or somewhere in between. With MAT, the
prospects for revolutionary advances and frightening risks are far greater.
 
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