Communion Of Dreams

The Warriors of 1812

Seems like an appropriate subject for post #1,812:

Gorman sketched out an early version of the thinking in a paper he wrote for DARPA after his retirement from the Army in 1985, in which he described an “integrated-powered exoskeleton” that could transform the weakling of the battlefield into a veritable super-soldier. The “SuperTroop” exoskeleton he proposed offered protection against chemical, biological, electromagnetic, and ballistic threats, including direct fire from a .50-caliber bullet. It “incorporated audio, visual, and haptic [touch] sensors,” Gorman explained, including thermal imaging for the eyes, sound suppression for the ears, and fiber optics from the head to the fingertips. Its interior would be climate-controlled, and each soldier would have his own physiological specifications embedded on a chip within his dog tags. “When a soldier donned his ST [SuperTroop] battledress,” Gorman wrote, “he would insert one dog-tag into a slot under the chest armor, thereby loading his personal program into the battle suit’s computer,” giving the 21st-century soldier an extraordinary ability to hear, see, move, shoot, and communicate.

At the time Gorman wrote, the computing technology needed for such a device did not yet exist. By 2001, however, DARPA had unveiled two exoskeleton programs, and by 2013, in partnership with U.S. Special Operations Command, DARPA had started work on a super-soldier suit called TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit) unlike anything in the history of warfare. Engineered with full-body ballistics protection; integrated heating and cooling systems; embedded sensors, antennas, and computers; 3D audio (to indicate where a fellow warfighter is by the sound of his voice); optics for vision in various light conditions; life-saving oxygen and hemorrhage controls; and more, TALOS is strikingly close to the futuristic exoskeleton that Gorman first envisioned for DARPA 25 years ago, and aims to be “fully functional” by 2018. “I am here to announce that we are building Iron Man,” President Barack Obama said of the suit during a manufacturing innovation event in 2014. When the president said, “This has been a secret project we’ve been working on for a long time,” he wasn’t kidding.

Yeah, though I’d say it was much more like the powered armor from either Starship Troopers or The Forever War than Iron Man. But then, something like military applications of a powered exoskeleton is hardly a new idea, no matter how you want to look at it. And it certainly isn’t surprising that this is something DARPA has been interested in, as I have noted in a number of previous posts.

Still, interesting to see it actually being translated into reality.


Jim Downey

And for today’s nightmare fuel …

… courtesy of Boston Dynamics:

Don’t get me wrong — that’s extremely cool technology. And I can think of all kinds of incredible applications even just as it is, let alone what it promises for the future.

But it also gives me the heebie-jeebies watching it move.


Jim Downey

It’s a Mil-Tech SF future; we’re just living in it.

Yeah, it’s cool and all, but I can’t be the only one who looked at the news about Google X’s Drone Program

A zipping comes across the sky.

A man named Neil Parfitt is standing in a field on a cattle ranch outside Warwick, Australia. A white vehicle appears above the trees, a tiny plane a bit bigger than a seagull. It glides towards Parfitt, pitches upwards to a vertical position, and hovers near him, a couple hundred feet in the air. From its belly, a package comes tumbling downward, connected by a thin line to the vehicle itself. Right before the delivery hits the ground, it slows, hitting the earth with a tap.

… and thinks “generation 1.0 Hunter-seeker“, right? I mean, this basically jumps from needing a large military drone to having a backpack assassination tool. Why worry about collateral damage with a missile when you can just drop a cigarette-pack lump of high explosive in someone’s lap, using a cell phone and facial-recognition software to make sure of your specific target?

Or how I look at the self-driving car and think “hmm, add a Ma Deuce and/or 30mm cannon, and you’ve a small autonomous tank”.

Yeah, OK, perhaps I’m just too cynical. But human nature being what it is, you’ve gotta think that there was a reason why DARPA has been behind the development of these technologies …


Jim Downey


“We’d never even *dream* of doing such a thing. Really!”

Well, anyone paying attention should have known this was coming:

Pentagon scientists show off life-size robot

Washington (AFP) – US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel got a first-hand look at a life-size robot that resembles Hollywood’s “Terminator,” the latest experiment by the Pentagon’s hi-tech researchers.

But unlike the cinematic version, the hulking Atlas robot is designed not as a warrior but as a humanitarian machine that would rescue victims in the rubble of a natural disaster, officials said on Tuesday.

The 6-foot-2-inch (187 centimeters) Atlas is one of the entrants in a contest designed to produce a man-like life-saver machine, the brainchild of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).


Right. Because the Pentagon would never *dream* of putting weapons on any new piece of technology

Well, they’ve got 15 years to get to the level of the T-800 model.



Jim Downey

“I, for one, …”

… well, you know the rest.  Granted, the RoboSimian is still tethered, and moves fairly slowly, but it certainly is another glimpse into how quickly robotics are progressing. See for yourself:


Jim Downey

Who are the Martians, now?

A news item you may have seen:

Fighter jets to be fitted with laser weapons for 2014

Very soon the U.S. Military will be fitting some of their fighter jets with real laser weapons. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) says that the new laser system will be fitted onto jet aircraft in 2014 as a defensive weapon capable of knocking out missiles and other projectiles while in flight.

If you’ve been waiting for the future to finally get here, just go ahead and mark your calendar for 2014.  It was recently announced that the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) would be retrofitting some U.S. military jets with actual 150KW lasers that will be able to knock missiles out of the sky.

The new laser weapons are part of DARPA’s High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System and are purportedly being fitted as a defensive measure specifically for knocking projectiles out of the sky such as surface-to-air missiles or any type of larger projectile.  The exact specifics of the system’s capability are still classified.

This may … ring a bell:

Forthwith flashes of actual flame, a bright glare leaping from one to another, sprang from the scattered group of men. It was as if some invisible jet impinged upon them and flashed into white flame. It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire.

Then, by the light of their own destruction, I saw them staggering and falling, and their supporters turning to run.

I stood staring, not as yet realizing that this was death leaping from man to man in that little distant crowd. All I felt was that it was something very strange. An almost noiseless and blinding flash of light, and a man fell head-long and lay still; and as the unseen shaft of heat passed over them, pine-trees burst into fire, and every dry furze-bush became with one dull thud a mass of flames. And far away towards Knaphill I saw the flashes of trees and hedges and wooden buildings suddenly set alight.

It was sweeping round swiftly and steadily, this flaming death, this invisible, inevitable sword of heat.

Small wonder that I’ve had this song kicking around in my head, from what is probably a largely-forgotten concept album 35 years old.


Jim Downey

“Refuel the donkey, and let’s get going.”

Step by step, the future gets closer:

That’s a new robot from Boston Dynamics called the LS3 – Legged Squad Support Systems. It’ll carry 400 pounds and run for 20 miles/24 hours before needing to be refueled. You don’t even need a ‘driver’: it’ll follow a designated leader automatically, picking its way over terrain on its own.

I’ll leave it to you to consider the implications of that last point.

Jim Downey

Can we reach orbit?

No, this isn’t about NASA, some secret DARPA project, the military, or even any of the private companies involved in space vehicle development. Though those are all things I pay attention to.

Rather, it’s about tomorrow’s Mother’s Day promotion, mentioned previously.


Well, I’m just extending the “book launch” metaphor, perhaps too far. But it beats comparing it to a nuclear reaction, I suppose.


Sales of Communion of Dreams have not just been steady, they’ve been slowly climbing this month, with the result that the Amazon Kindle ranking has now been hovering around 4,000 overall, and in the low 30s for a couple different categories of Science Fiction. And more people are writing reviews which are very positive.

Each time previously that I ran a free Kindle edition promotion, there was a following surge in sales, with things then leveling off. The most recent promotional day resulted in this fairly decent level of sales we’re currently seeing. And I’m really curious to see whether this push tomorrow will kick it up yet another substantial, self-sustaining level.

And of course I’m hoping that it will also do good things not just for the memoir, but also for John’s new book (which I am looking forward to reading, myself!)

Keep your fingers crossed. Better yet, help spread the word. Thanks!

Jim Downey

Right on schedule.

A friend who recently read Communion of Dreams sent me a link to this item this morning:

DARPA sets sights on high-tech contact lenses

( — A Bellevue, Washington, company specializing in display technology based on eyewear and contact lenses has sealed a deal with DARPA. Innovega, which says its technology can open a “new dimension to virtual and augmented reality applications,” told the BBC earlier this week that it has signed a contract to deliver a prototype of its iOptik display system to DARPA. That system consists of special contact lenses and eyeglasses. The product is touted to be a better solution than bulky heads-up display systems of the past. Screens sit directly on users’ eyeballs and work with a pair of special lightweight glasses.

* * *

Users can look at two things at once, both the information projected and the more distant view. The retina receives each image in focus. The engineers used nanoscale techniques to develop the lenses, so that they can work as a focusing device with the glasses. The ability to focus the near-eye image is achieved by embedding optical elements inside the iOptik contact lens, according to Innovega. The micro-components do not interfere with the wearer’s normal vision.

* * *

The company says its system affords the human eye to see near-to-eye micro-display information simultaneously with the surrounding environment. Beyond DARPA, the company anticipates its technology can be used by the general public, but it will take a few years for that to happen. The product is undergoing clinical trials as part of the US FDA approval process. Possible applications might be gaming, watching big-screen 3-D movies, and future augmented reality devices superimposing images on reality. According to Innovega, the technology may be available to the public towards the end of 2014.

There’s also video of how the technology works, using a camera with one of these contacts mounted on the surface of the lens. It’s pretty cool.

Four years ago I wrote about the first big breakthrough with this kind of technology, and noted that the article I was referring to said the technology should reach the stage where DARPA would be able to start testing a functional version in “three to five years.”

Just for fun, here’s a passage from the beginning of Chapter 8 of Communion of Dreams when the main character first descends to the surface of Titan:

Jon nodded, slipped between the seats, through the door of the airlock. Locking it, he started the cycle. He felt a crinkling of his environment suit as it compensated for the increasing pressure, then the indicator light turned green and the hatch opened. He looked out into a thick, dull red fog. In the distance a strobe flashed. Sidwell’s compound.

Jon went out the hatch, down a couple of steps to the ground. As he cleared the small craft, his pc connected to Sidwell’s datastream broadcast. An overlay appeared before his eyes, pale lines of light outlining buildings in the distance. Nodding to the two guards waiting, he followed them toward the compound.

As I’ve said many times before, it’s always fun to see these technologies I envisioned becoming reality.

Jim Downey