If there’s a single constant to be found across thousands of years of human history, it’s that we really, really like fighting each other. The only thing that’s changed as we evolved into higher beings is that we’ve come up with better and better ways of fighting each other.
For a couple of centuries, soldiers encased themselves in plate metal and hammered each other with a variety of inventive weapons — until gunpowder came along and quickly made that all obsolete. Armour was in vogue again after a mere five hundred years thanks to modern body armour, which thankfully was a little better than its predecessors at stopping bullets. In today’s world, technology rules the battlefield, but we still can’t help but wonder what is next for soldiers on the ground in warzones around the world. At a presentation in Canberra recently, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation revealed some of the projects they’ve been working on that may give an insight into the warfare of the future.
Vibration Energy Harvester
Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only converted into a different form — even I know that basic scientific principle, and I slept through most of my high school science classes. It’s no surprise then that many scientists are experimenting with devices that harness different forms of energy and turn them into useable energy. This one from DSTO takes the mechanical energy created from a vehicle’s structural vibrations, and uses it to run low-power devices — no batteries required. It apparently has an unlimited lifespan, meaning this prototype is already better than most smartphones. Plus as soon as you call something an "energy harvester", it automatically sounds pretty cool.
“What if someone had dosed this room with something you couldn’t smell, couldn’t see, and you were breathing it in like air?” asks a DSTO scientist on the stage, leaving most of the people in the room just a little uncomfortable and strongly hoping this wasn’t a practical demonstration of his toxic vapour detecting device. Yes, far from being a screaming superheroine in black leather, DSTO’s Black Canary is a rather nondescript black box with a ring of 8 small nodes on its front, which fits snugly in the presenter’s inside jacket pocket. Where, as he informs us, it discreetly notified him of the toxic threat over thirty seconds earlier, along with wirelessly transmitting this information to the devices of other Defence personnel. He then proceeds to grab a gas mask from a nearby table. This is a theoretical demonstration, right?
Digital Video Guard
Despite the Australian government’s painful history with matters of so-called ‘cyber security,’ the DVG actually seems like a really cool concept. It’s a small black box that connects a host computer to a video display, decrypting the display so you can ensure that whatever sensitive data you are viewing is safe from both software and hardware Trojans. The device is designed for applications like working from remote locations, or bring-your-own-device work environment, and can either be plugged in externally or fitted directly into a computer. Be aware that you might sacrifice some processing power for this one, however, as it has to decrypt video pixels ‘on the fly.’
Sometimes simple ideas go the furthest — in this case, literally three times as far. The JDAM-ER, that is, Joint Direct Attack Munition Extended Range for those not up to scratch with their military acronyms, is in essence a pair of folding wings that attach to the top of a bomb, unfolding during flight to allow the bomb to glide up to three times further than its regular flight path. Simple, yet effective — although the JDAM kit already has an internal GPS navigation system that enables it to land within 13m of its target so perhaps ‘simple’ isn’t quite the right word.