The 11 coolest high-tech military projects happening right now

Technology helps give American troops an advantage on the battlefield, and DoD is working on new stuff all the time. Here are 11 of the coolest things they’re working on right now:

1. Drones that can fly 45 mph


Photo: YouTube/DARPAtv

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants drones that can race their way through enemy-held buildings or disaster areas without hitting anything, and they’re pretty successful so far. A modified drone hit 45 mph in a test and the drones can navigate obstacle courses at lower speeds.

2. Robot cockroaches


Photo: YouTube/UC Berkeley

Real cockroaches can squeeze through tiny gaps and scurry quickly through hard to reach areas. A lab in Berkeley is working on the Compressible Robot with Articulated Mechanisms, a robot based on cockroaches. At Harvard, researchers are working on tiny microphones, cameras, and antennas so the robot could beam intelligence to soldiers.

3. Self-steering parachutes that don’t need GPS

Units in the field sometimes have to rely on air drops for supplies and they need the drops to be as accurate as possible. To make sure supplies arrive on target, the Army is developing the Joint Precision Airdrop Progam that uses small motors to steer a parachute. The onboard computer figures out how to navigate to the target location by scanning the ground below and comparing it to an onboard map, no GPS required.

4. Swarm robots


GIF: YouTube/usnavyresearch

The Navy is experimenting with swarms of autonomous drones. Swarmboat attacks, where lots of autonomous boats attack an enemy ship at once, were tested successfully in 2014 in Virginia, and the Navy is working on swarmdrones that can be fired out of cannons.

5. Quick-response close air support

DARPA's persistent close air support program will allow ground controllers to more quickly request and receive close air support

Illustration: DARPA

Close air support allows troops to call in airplanes and helicopters to attack enemy ground forces. With the current tactics and resources, it generally takes 30 to 60 minutes for pilots to get to the fight and drop their bombs. Persistent Close Air Support, or PCAS, looks to drop this to six minutes by allowing ground fighters to tap a point on a digital map and have the pilot immediately receive the geo coordinates along with a flight plan and bombing solution.

6. On-demand satellite launches

Airborne Launch Assist Space Access is a convoluted name for a program, but it has a tantalizing promise: satellites in orbit within 24 hours of a request for less than $1 million. The satellites would be placed in a rocket attached to a jet. The jet would then fly to the upper atmosphere and release the rocket, and its satellite, into orbit.

7. Soldier super senses

DARPA's project, squad x core technologies, will allow ground troops to see information from across the battlefield

Illustration: DARPA

Squad X core technology services aims to give troops better situational awareness by linking them into all the sensors on the battlefield, including new ones mounted on the troops themselves. Squad leaders would be able to see the status of their squad, video feeds from nearby drones and aircraft, and targets in the area.

8. Intuitive prosthetics

HAPTIX, Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces, is working to make prosthetics that not only work like biological limbs, but feel like biological limbs. This should allow amputees to do more things more quickly with their prosthetics and even allow more amputees to return to combat. (The video above shows a soldier testing a prototype arm while climbing a rock wall.)

9. Firefighting robots

DARPA project firefighting robot SAFFiR

Photo: US Naval Research Laboratory Jamie Hartman

The Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, or SAFFiR, is designed to work on Navy ships fighting fires and identifying hot spots before they light off. In testing last November, SAFFiR successfully fought a small fire on a decommissioned ship.

10. Drones that hunt in packs

DARPA program seeks drones that hunt as a pack

Illustration: DARPA

The Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment, or CODE, is designed to reverse the human to robot ratio, taking it from multiple humans per drone to multiple drones per human.

11. Electricity as medicine

DARPA project ElectRX will allow doctors to use electrical impulses in the enrve endings to diagnose and treat problems with the body's natural healing processes

Illustration: DARPA

The human body is designed to heal itself, but sometimes extreme trauma can cause the electrical impulses that control healing processes to go haywire. ElectRx will allow doctors to record nerve processes in healthy bodies and then prescribe stimuli to correct the electrical storm in patients with post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, autoimmune disorders, or even physical injury.