They say that if we could all just stop being jerks to each other for five minutes, we could explore the universe. Not true. It turns out when people stop fighting and start collaborating, we instead bank on future fights and build the biggest weapons we can think of. We've told you before about various unbelievable weapons, but the combination of the greatest minds and trillions of dollars means the inventions never stop coming. Here is some space age technology that is already within our grasp.
Lasers on Everything
Every action movie, from Bond to Star Wars, knows that lasers are the coolest weapons. It turns out all the lab geeks who work for the military saw the same science fiction movies you did, and it means that one day every square inch of our military will be covered in laser guns.
The battlefield of the future. Bring your own E.
Let's start with planes. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is experimenting with mounting laser cannons on planes, if for no other reason than to give those awful people who shine laser pointers at airborne planes a taste of their own medicine. But then again, when you think about it, pilots are such a thing of the past. Drones are the future. We've already put bombs and machine guns on them, why not lasers? Recently U.S. Air Force captain and drone pilot Michael Byrnes explained in a military magazine how unmanned laser drones could be the future of aerial dogfighting. So, soon every air battle will be like Top Gun, but if Maverick was a robot and the planes burned up mysteriously because technically you won't even be able to see the laser.
But what if we create this technology and it falls into enemy hands? Simple: Just equip Hummers with anti-drone lasers. That way when our creation comes back to kill us like some Frankenstein monster made out of pure energy, we can take it out with EVEN MORE LASERS.
Then there is the ultimate prize, the ray gun we have all wanted since we were children. DARPA is working on making this seemingly impossible goal a reality by slowly shrinking available laser technology in their totally awesomely named Excalibur program.
But these weapons are all going to be available sometime in the future. You want to know what kind of ass lasers are kicking right now, right? Well, the Navy has come up with a laser cannon for taking down drones, small boats, and other threats. And it's not theoretical; it's on a ship as we speak. The chief of naval research is most excited about its cost: less than a dollar per "round," compared to thousands of dollars to fire a missile. Thanks to the recession, in the future war could be just a constant barrage of lasers firing from every available surface.
If you've ever been to a gun range, you probably know that, no matter what your political affiliation, holding that weapon just makes you feel cool. Suddenly you are Dirty Harry or Doc Holiday. At least until the target sheet comes lumbering back, completely unscathed. Then you hate guns again and the sun was in your eyes, and, hey, the A-Team always missed as well, and they were still awesome.
Amazingly, technology now exists to make you and (more importantly) military snipers a perfect shot almost every time.
Yeah, that is probably an appropriate reaction.
A company called TrackingPoint, which according to its founder is full of "video game nerds," has created a gun for the military that makes shooting a distant target laughably easy. Whereas before snipers had to calculate a dozen different things in their head in order to get the perfect shot, now the gun can do it all for them. Literally. These firearms can tell the "atmospheric conditions, cant, inclination, even the slight shift of the Earth's rotation known as the Coriolis effect." That's right -- this gun can feel the Earth move. (And not in a sexual way, unless you really don't understand why most people like guns...or how sex works.) Forget snipers doing endless calculations; with TrackingPoint's gun, as long as they know the wind speed and direction, they are good to go.
"'Cookie Monster' is close enough. Welcome to the Army, kid."
While unbelievably advanced, it is astonishingly simple to use. First you find your target, and then you hit a red button near the trigger. This, as one reporter put it, is "similar to the way a Facebook user tags a friend in a photograph." Incidentally, we'd like to send a letter to the editor explaining that "friendship," is a staggeringly inappropriate analogy for turning someone's head into a pink mist.
Well-trained military snipers only have a 20 to 30 percent first shot success rate with their current weapons. This new technology is so impressive that after only a couple minutes of instruction, 70 percent of regular people -- not military members or gun experts -- manage to hit a target 10 football fields away on the first try.
Because measuring pure violence in football fields just feels fitting.
Even though the military has access to radar, sonar, heat-seeking missiles, etc., in the end they are still limited by what their soldiers can actually see. But the military-industrial complex has never stopped trying to improve our weak and feeble eye abilities.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently built the military a fun new toy that literally sees through walls. It might look like a combination of outdated computers and a post office, but it was built to assist soldiers during urban combat by giving them access to one of Superman's best powers.
Go ahead and try to put some junk mail in there, we dare you.
As you learned in elementary school, the whole reason we can't see through stuff is because our eyes only work when light bounces off something. Since light can't go through walls, all we see is the wall. But about 1 percent of microwaves can make it through solid objects. So, by bombarding buildings with microwaves, the receivers on the cart can tell if someone is inside. OK, it looks more like a 2-year-old with a Lite-Brite than a live stream, but hey, let's see your X-ray vision machine, killjoy.
Is that a hurricane blowing in?
Terrorists do have one advantage in this situation, though. The device can only locate moving objects. We're not here to help people who are up to no good, but if you are planning on doing a little terrorizing, it might be best to treat your meetings like a mortally dangerous game of red light/green light.
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Michigan recently figured out how to take all that night-vision technology soldiers wear on their head and stick it on their eyes. Eventually, just by wearing contacts, soldiers will be able to see in the dark. And high-tech contacts seem to be the way of the future. DARPA is working on a contact/sunglasses system that would allow the wearer to view a combination of real, virtual, and augmented reality images that could make Google Glass look like a Commodore 64. Soon the military could send data about visual targets straight to soldiers' field of vision, drastically improving their performance.
Plus, people are a lot less likely to call you an asshole when you are holding a gun.
By now people have gone to war on pretty much every inch of the Earth (you're next, Antarctica). And since video games have taught us that we inevitably get sick of killing people in front of the same scenery over and over, the next logical place to take war is outer space. Don't scoff; the technology is already available for some celestial ass-kicking.
China has already started testing its anti-satellite missiles, which, if ever utilized in warfare, could completely cripple countries who depend on the technology. Imagine the chaos if every satnav in America stopped working at the same time. The nationwide pileup would be epic.
But the U.S. has its own space age technology. The X-37 Orbital Test Vehicle (or OTV) started out as a NASA project, but was taken over by the Department of Defense. It says a lot about its "killing everyone" capabilities that they took it away from the science guys and gave it to the people always looking for a better way to blow stuff up. The OTV looks kind of like a miniature space shuttle with a trap door underneath and doesn't need to be piloted by a human crew. The DoD started sending prototypes to orbit the Earth for hundreds of days at a time, then landing them back on Earth. No one seems to know exactly what they were sent up for, but there is a pretty solid theory.
Please, please be something about peace and love.
Kinetic bombardment was an idea put forth by an engineer turned science fiction writer in the 1950s. Also called "Rods from God" (because people were innocent back then and were not making a deity boner joke), the idea was simple: Send some sort of spacecraft to orbit the Earth armed with tungsten bars. Then drop them. No matter what you are trying to hit, even something deep underground, it will blow up. Also known as kinetic penetrators, these are guaranteed to give anyone a good shafting.
Just like the other Rod from God.
In 2004, Popular Science estimated that since it would need cheaper, reusable spacecraft, this technology was still 15 years away. Well, it's been 10 years, and now we have the technology. And the U.S. military hasn't been quiet about its interest in the weapon, writing about its possible uses in at least three reports since 2003 and increasing its "space weapon" budget by more than a billion dollars.
But we have access to all kinds of bombs -- why are these Rods from God better? First, on impact they are stronger than all but the most powerful nukes. And second, and most importantly, in 1965 the U.S. signed the Outer Space Treaty. This severely limits what weapons countries can launch into space. It just so happens that Rods from God would be legal under that treaty. Hypervelocity love bundles are probably dangling over our heads right now.
So maybe stop blowing up satellites, China. For all our sakes.
Even after the military has beaten them into perfect physical specimens, human bodies are still annoyingly fragile. Soldiers can carry around 100 pounds, which is impressive, but over long distances in intense heat their bodies will eventually break down. The most common reason for a military discharge is simple physical wear and tear. No matter how many amazing weapons these mad scientists dream up, there is always going to be one major problem with the military: It has people in it.
Those lazy snipers are always lying down.
Since we can't have an all-robot Army just yet, our good friends at DARPA have stepped in and invented a kind of Advanced Warfare wearable exoskeleton that will make the average soldier as close to a robot as possible: faster, stronger, and less likely to get injured. Suddenly, those 100 pounds are going to feel like 50, allowing real live soldiers to push themselves much further. Sometimes called the Iron Man suit, this technology is actually named Warrior Web, and it is unbelievable. It is lightweight, but strong. Flexible, except when it needs to be firm. Soldiers wearing it can theoretically run a four-minute mile. It incorporates a liquid armor that can stop bullets and prevent chemical weapons from entering the body. It once dated Jennifer Lawrence and can solve a Rubik's Cube in under a minute. That last bit might be made up, but honestly, it is really hard to tell.
Who doesn't love a man in space age spandex?
But even more amazing is the health technology included in the Warrior Web exoskeleton. By monitoring all the vital signs of his or her soldiers on a network, a unit leader can decide who needs to fall back, who needs to advance, and who needs a medic, all during a real battle situation. And this suit isn't just in the theoretical stages; they have already tested it on soldiers and have found it has "enormous potential."
For more from Kathy, check out 4 Ways We're Programmed to Think Women Aren't Funny and 5 Unfortunate Biases Hard Coded into Your DNA.