Rice University scientists have built the world’s first printable military ‘smart helmet‘ using industrial-grade 3D printers.
Aimed at modernising standard-issue military helmets, the 3D printed nanomaterial-enhanced exoskeleton comes with embedded sensors that actively protect the brain against kinetic or directed-energy effects.
Principal investigator Paul Cherukuri, executive director of Rice’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, led the team printing the helmet.
They have so far received $1.3 million from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) through the Defense Research University Instrumentation Program to build their device.
Rice will utilize Carbon Inc.’s L1 printer to develop a strong-but-light military-grade helmet that incorporates advances in materials, image processing, AI, haptic feedback and energy storage.
The printer enables rapid prototyping that in turn simplifies the process of incorporating the sensors, cameras, batteries and wiring harnesses the program requires.
“Current helmets have evolved little since the last century and are still heavy, bulky, passive devices,” says Cherukuri.
“Because of advances in sensors and additive manufacturing, we’re now reimagining the helmet as a 3D-printed, AI-enabled, ‘always-on’ wearable that detects threats near or far and is capable of launching countermeasures to protect soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.”
Essentially, we’re building J.A.R.V.I.S,” says Cherukuri, alluding to Marvel’s Iron Man aka Tony Stark’s natural-language user interface computer system.
The Smart Helmet program will use technology drawn from projects like the FlatCam, a system developed by co-investigator and electrical and computer engineer Ashok Veeraraghavan and his colleagues, that incorporates sophisticated image processing to eliminate the need for bulky lenses.
It will also make use of Cherukuri’s Teslaphoresis as well, a kind of tractor beam for nanomaterials that could help create physical and electromagnetic shields inside the helmets.
Image and content: Rice University