Exoskeletons, Robo Rats and Synthetic Skin: The Pentagon’s Cyborg Army


Photo: DEKA

Eyes that are alert and steady. Skin that’s sensitive to the touch. Arms that bend and grasp. To an unknowing observer, troops in the next-generation military might look much like today’s.

But those eyes are veiled by self-assembling contact lenses that transmit text messages and take blood pressure readings. That skin is made up of nanowires laid onto flexible rubber. And the arm underneath? A prosthetic — controlled by brain implant.

The Pentagon wants troops to be faster, stronger and more resilient. And with help from robotics, nanotechnology and neuroscience, the military’s cyborg army — from human troops to rat-bot recruits — is getting prepped for battle.

Above: Neurally Controlled Prosthetics

In less than 10 years, Darpa’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program has transformed artificial limbs. Prosthetic arms, like the DEKA model, are already wired to respond to toe movements. Next up? Arms that are fully integrated with a wearer’s neural signals.

A collaboration led by Johns Hopkins researchers will start human trials on their Modular Prosthetic Limb this year. Micro-arrays are implanted into the brain, allowing a user to operate the prosthetic — which includes 22-degrees of motion, independent finger movement and weighs only 9 pounds — with their thoughts alone.

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