When geek dreams become real life

January 24, 2012

Come on, this is Dungeons and Dragons brought to life, thanks to the mad scientists of DARPA: a Wand of Fire Suppression!

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known to its friends as DARPA, has announced their latest innovation: Instant fire suppression. The goal of the research project, which was part of a joint venture with Harvard University, was to find a better way to put out fires. Instead of conventional tactics, DARPA wanted a high-tech tool that would attack the very physical make up of fire using acoustics and electromagnetism.

You might be asking, “But DARPA, we already have perfectly good means of extinguishing fires, don’t we?” Sure, but each method has some pretty major drawbacks. Chemical suppressants, which interrupts the combustion process, are only effective against some types of fires, often result in collateral damage through their use, and are usually toxic. Water and CO2 suppression work well enough by smothering fires, but they still require a physical delivery system — the logistics of which can be hampered by the tight spaces one might encounter onboard a ship, for instance.

Through their research, DARPA wanted to use the physics of fire against itself. In their own words, they sought, “a novel flame-suppression system based on destabilization of flame plasma with electromagnetic fields and acoustics techniques.” Their research paid off in the form of a handheld “wand” device which snuffs out flames.

Click through for video. The big problem is scalability (perhaps power requirements or the size of the fire), but I imagine that can be fixed with enough research. Regardless, this is beyond way-cool. It’s science fiction brought to life, technology as magic.

Now, if they’d only start working on creating a hot Elf chick in a chainmail bikini…

When science fiction becomes real: unleash the robot cheetahs!

March 1, 2011

Some of the neatest stuff comes out of the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) — like this Internet thingy we’re playing with. Much of their work –that they tell us about– involves robotics, “intelligent” machines that can be sent into dangerous areas both to spare human soldiers the risk and to extend their capabilities. Wired has story on the progress toward developing, get this, a robot cheetah:

Perhaps you thought the four-legged BigDog robot wasn’t eerily lifelike enough. That’ll change soon. BigDog’s makers are working on a new quadruped that moves faster than any human and is agile enough to “chase and evade.”

Boston Dynamics, maker of the Army’s BigDog robotic mule, announced today that Darpa has awarded it a contract to build a much faster and more fearsome animal-like robot, Cheetah.

As the name implies, Cheetah is designed to be a four-legged robot with a flexible spine and articulated head (and potentially a tail) that runs faster than the fastest human. In addition to raw speed, Cheetah’s makers promise that it will have the agility to make tight turns so that it can “zigzag to chase and evade” and be able to stop on a dime.

Cheetah builds off work on the company’s previous four legged animal bot, BigDog.  It was built as a kind of unmanned pack mule, designed to carry equipment for troops on the battlefield. The robotic donkey could carry 300 lbs. over 13 miles on flat ground, take a swift kick and keep on moving. It’s creepy, lifelike movement can be seen on a number of videos online, climbing over hills and snow and hiking alongside soldiers, using GPS coordinates as its waypoints.

They talk about non-military applications, of course*, but, come on. Who didn’t smile at the prospect of unleashing robotic cheetahs that can run faster than a human on the Taliban?

LINKS: An earlier post on our coming Space Marine force. I’m also quite interested in powered exoskeletons, which are a precursor to full-blown powered armor. As I like to say, “We have all the best toys!”

*To keep the progressives happy, y’know. They’re sensitive like that.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)