Tech researchers on soldiers' side

While soldiers are on battlefields around the world, researchers in the U.S. are developing technologies that could make those military participants more efficient and safer.

Georgia Tech researcher Zhong Lin Wang presented research at the American Chemical Society's 237th Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City regarding nanogenerators that can transfer mechanical energy from basic body movements into electric energy that could be used to power wireless communications devices. 

"The research will have a major impact on defense technology, environmental monitoring, biomedical sciences and even personal electronics," said Zhong Lin Wang, lead researcher on the project from Georgia Tech, in a statement.

The nanogenerators would in theory nix the need for batteries by converting low-frequency vibrations, such as by waving a hand, into electricity via zinc oxide nanowires that could could be grown on metals, clothing and other surfaces, including tents. More work needs to be done to ramp up voltage and power, Wang says. Earlier research from his group exploited ultrasound rather than mechanical energy.

Wang's group has experimented with hamster power, among other things, to develop nanogenerator technology. [Robotics company iRobot has also leaned on hamsters recently in its R&D.]

Separately, over at Vanderbilt University researchers are developing wireless technology for turning soldiers' helmets into wireless sensor network nodes. The school's Institute for Software Integrated Systems uses sound waves produced by rifle fire to help soliders figure out where enemy fire might be coming from. The lightweigh and relatively inexpensive system, which relies on a set of four microphones attached to a soldier's helmet, can triangulate using data from multiple helmet nodes to produce more accurate results, the researchers say.

Data can then be fed to PDAs used by soldiers for spotting shooters on maps.

The nodes themselves were created by UC Berkeley researchers and produced by a company called Crossbow Technology.

Both the Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt research is funded in part by DARPA.

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