Researchers at Rice University in Texas are developing the world’s first printable military ‘smart helmet’ using industrial-grade 3D printers.
The team, led by principal investigator Paul Cherukuri, executive director of Rice’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, has received $1.3m from the US Office of Naval Research through the Defense Research University Instrumentation Program to develop the helmet.
According to Rice, the Smart Helmet program aims to modernise standard-issue military helmets by 3D-printing a nanomaterial-enhanced exoskeleton with embedded sensors to actively protect the brain against the effects of kinetic or directed-energy.
Rice said it will use Carbon Inc.’s L1 printer to develop a strong-but-light military-grade helmet that incorporates advances in materials, image processing, artificial intelligence, 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, Cherukuri said.
“Current helmets have evolved little since the last century and are still heavy, bulky, passive devices,” he said. “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.”
The Smart Helmet program will use technology drawn from projects such as FlatCam, a system developed by co-investigator and electrical and computer engineer Ashok Veeraraghavan and his colleagues that incorporates image processing to eliminate the need for lenses, as well as Cherukuri’s Teslaphoresis. Likened to a tractor beam for nanomaterials, the Teslaphoresis could help create physical and electromagnetic shields inside the helmets.
“A smart helmet task force has been assembled from some of the finest minds at Rice to tackle the challenge of creating a self-contained, intelligent system that protects the warfighter at all times,” Cherukuri said. The task force includes the labs of materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan, civil and environmental engineer and Rice Provost Reginald DesRoches, mechanical engineer Marcia O’Malley, chemist James Tour and Veeraraghavan.