Monday, September 27, 2010

Superpowers for Real!

Today's news item about a "real-life" Iron Man suit was timed especially to coincide with the release of Marvel Studios' Iron Man 2 on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow. The new robotic suit called Exoskeleton (XOS 2) – released by Raytheon Company – is lighter, faster and stronger than its predecessor, yet it uses 50 percent less power. It enables its wearer to easily lift 200 pounds several hundred times without tiring and repeatedly punch through three inches of wood.

Raytheon is developing the robotic suit to help with the many logistics challenges faced by the military both in and out of battle. Repetitive heavy lifting leads to injuries, orthopedic injuries in particular, instead, the XOS 2 does the lifting for its operator, reducing both strain and exertion. It also does the work faster. One operator in an exoskeleton suit can do the work of two to three soldiers. Deploying exoskeletons would allow military personnel to be reassigned to more strategic tasks.

This report reminded me of a recent story about an invisibility cloak made from silk, and coated in gold. The new metamaterial, as invisibility cloaks and their ilk are technically called, only works on relatively long terahertz waves (a region of the electromagnetic spectrum between radio and infrared light), but the scientists who developed the technology think that silk could work as an invisibility cloak at much smaller wavelengths, even in the visible range.

The research by Tufts and Boston University scientists could lead to a wide range of optically unique materials for use in biomedicine or defense. Silk-based invisibility would also allow doctors and radiologists to cloak various organs or tissues and see through them, getting a better image of the organs or tissues usually hidden behind.

Now if only the rest of us could get a crack at some of this cool stuff without being labeled terrorists by homeland security police? [XOS 2 photo (above; left) copyright Raytheon]

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