Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Dark Knight's Suit

In "The Dark Knight," Batman complains that he needs a better suit - and that's a concern for the real-life knights in the U.S. military as well. The Pentagon would love to have Wayne Enterprises' secret for lighter, more flexible body armor. Nanocomp Technologies based in New Hampshire, is among several companies working on carbon-nanotube composites for military applications.

"We're really focused on trying to create layers of protection that would improve things for our troops," Peter Antoinette, Nanocomp's president and chief executive officer, told me. "It would take a number of years before you could order up a suit, and then a billionaire would have to pay seven figures for a suit that would work the way they do in the movies."

As an initial step, Nanocomp is working on nanotubes for next-generation wiring in satellites and aircraft. Carbon nanotubes are highly conductive and could replace copper wire in settings where reducing weight is crucial. "We're less than one-tenth the weight of copper, so if you can take 1,000 pounds off these satellites or aircraft, you'd be saving a huge amount of money," Antoinette said.

Commercialization of nanotube wiring could begin as early as next year, Antoinette said. He added that Nanocomp's materials are already undergoing military testing, and body-armor applications could start emerging in 2010 or so.

Kakalios agreed that nanotubes are a technology to watch: "Compared to steel cables, it's about 100 times stronger. Whether you can make this in large enough quantities, in long enough length scales ... that work is still in progress."


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