Design

U.S. Army's Creepy Sci-Fi Helmets Come With Built-In A/C


Army design for the next-generation protective mask

Courtesy U.S. Army

Army design for the next-generation protective mask

If the U.S. Army greenlights a radical new helmet design, its soldiers may have a harder time winning hearts and minds overseas. Quite simply, the thing is frightening—think motocross storm trooper.

Functionally, however, the helmet unveiled Tuesday marks a major advance. The same features that make it look so fierce—a full face mask and eye shield—filter out chemical attacks and biological pathogens. The screen over the eyes will populate with real-time data, like a sort of G.I. Google Glass.

The real masterstroke is a lightweight fan that cools the head and runs off batteries attached to a soldier’s hip or back. The next version will “sense,” using body sensors, when the fan needs to turn itself on, according to the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.

Helmets are a fairly hot and controversial design category these days, as scientists increasingly find that even mild brain trauma may be more harmful than previously thought. Both the U.S. military and the National Football League have been putting sensors in helmets to flag potentially serious impacts.

The Army said recently that, among other findings, its headgear has traditionally been great at stopping shrapnel but less effective at handling blunt impact and shock waves from explosions. Plus, old brain-buckets such as this one were terrible at displaying data.

Army R&D units have been developing a new kind of padding that is essentially a cluster of glass “microspheres” that break to absorb impacts. That technology—as well as the Mad Max helmet unveiled today—may not see action for a while. The Pentagon is in the midst of outfitting all its soldiers with a new “enhanced combat helmet,” which replaces Kevlar from Dupont (DD) with lighter polyethylene fibers from 3M (MMM). Those cost Uncle Sam about $1,000 each, but they don’t stop chemical attacks or check e-mail.

Kyle-stock-190
Stock is an associate editor for Businessweek.com. Twitter: @kylestock

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