From robots that eat and shrink to invincible soldiers and smart drones, advanced science projects will alter our universe. We look at 12 of the best.

Thinking about mad science projects usually involves imaging a nutty professor tucked away in his lab.

However, some experiments, once only conceivable as being conducted by that nutty professor, are now becoming more mainstream as real money is being spent on everything from shape-shifting robots to artificial intelligence-based borgs. Here we take a look at 12 projects Dr Frankenstein would have loved.

Build your inner strength

The US military's research arm has done much to help increase the health and well-being of its service members but, it wants to make them better, way better.

A Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program called 'Inner Armour' is looking at ways to fortify the entire soldier against attack from bullets and bombs, but also against environmental threats, infectious diseases, chemical, biological and radioactive weapons.

One example of Inner Armour work. In humans, core body temperature can be controlled by the temperature applied to superficial veins in the arms and legs.

Thus, "heat dumping" materials comprised of designer proteins, could be worn as "venous radiator patches" over the eight anatomic locations where major blood vessels lie close to the skin. Indeed.

The shape-shifting bot

iRobot recently showed one of the first shape shifting robots or chembots as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency calls them.

The company last year got a $3.3 million DARPA contract to build soft, flexible, mobile objects that can identify and manouver through openings smaller than their static structural dimensions; reconstitute size, shape, and features while delivering meaningful payloads or performing significant tasks.

NEXT PAGE: Going up and a vegetarian robot

  1. These experiments could change the way we live
  2. Going up and a vegetarian robot
  3. The robotic gardener and the dark side
  4. Buzzing and Big Brother
  5. The Jetson Pod and Fly by droning
  6. The all-consuming AI system and NASA and the micro-bots

From robots that eat and shrink to invincible soldiers and smart drones, advanced science projects will alter our universe. We look at 12 of the best.

Going up?

The Space Elevator is defined by its proponents as a "railroad to space".

Space elevators are in a stationary tethers rotating with the Earth, held up by a weight at one end, and serving as a track on which electric vehicles called 'climbers' can travel up and down carrying about 10 tons of payload, according to The Spaceward Foundation elevator-what which is working with NASA to develop such technology.

According to the Spaceward Foundation, the single most difficult task in building the Space Elevator is achieving the required tether strength-to-weight ratio - in other words, developing a material that is both strong enough and light enough to support the 60,000 mile long tether.

The hungry vegetarian robot

Here we have Cyclone Power building, what it calls a beta biomass engine system that will be the heart of what's known as the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR) being developed by Robotic Technologies.

The purpose of EATR is to develop an autonomous robotic platform able to perform long-range, long-endurance missions without the need for manual or conventional refuelling - in other words it needs to 'eat'.

According to researchers, the EATR system gets its energy by foraging, or what the firms describe as "engaging in biologically-inspired, organism-like, energy harvesting behaviour which is the equivalent of eating.

It can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment as well as use conventional and alternative fuels when suitable".

NEXT PAGE: The robotic gardener and the dark side

  1. These experiments could change the way we live
  2. Going up and a vegetarian robot
  3. The robotic gardener and the dark side
  4. Buzzing and Big Brother
  5. The Jetson Pod and Fly by droning
  6. The all-consuming AI system and NASA and the micro-bots


From robots that eat and shrink to invincible soldiers and smart drones, advanced science projects will alter our universe. We look at 12 of the best.

The robotic gardener

Home to lots of unconventional thinking, MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is experimenting with robotic gardening or "precision agriculture" as the MIT folks call it.

The idea is to take advantage of swarm robotics: and plant sensors that let plants request additional water from their robot overlords. Ripe tomatoes for example, are picked by other bots.

The dark side

The US National Science Foundation is developing mathematical and computational algorithms and techniques that will improve law enforcement and the intelligence communities' ability to transform large, often streaming data sets, emails, images, numbers and sounds into a form that better supports visualisation and analytic reasoning.

The potentially controversial dark side of this research is that the NSF is working hand-in-hand with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop some of this technology.

Obviously interpreting data from potential terrorist organisations and the like would be useful but when you see mention of healthcare and biological data interpretation interest in the same sentence as DHS, it does create a bit of an issue.

NEXT PAGE: Buzzing and Big Brother

  1. These experiments could change the way we live
  2. Going up and a vegetarian robot
  3. The robotic gardener and the dark side
  4. Buzzing and Big Brother
  5. The Jetson Pod and Fly by droning
  6. The all-consuming AI system and NASA and the micro-bots


From robots that eat and shrink to invincible soldiers and smart drones, advanced science projects will alter our universe. We look at 12 of the best.

Buzzing

Harvard researchers in the US recently got a $10m grant to create a colony of flying robotic bees, or RoboBees to among other things, spur innovation in ultra-low-power computing and electronic ‘smart' sensors; and refine coordination algorithms to manage multiple, independent machines.

The five-year, US National Science Foundation-funded RoboBee project could lead to a better understanding of how to artificially mimic the unique collective behaviour and intelligence of a bee colony among other cool stuff, according to the Harvard RoboBee website.

Big brother

Researchers are looking to develop an intelligent image system that can monitor large areas, perhaps miles wide, identify potential threats based on the correlation of events and anomalies it detects, and issue timely alerts with few false alarms.

Such a surveillance system is at the heart of what researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency call a Persistent Stare Exploitation and Analysis System (PerSEAS) that can automatically and interactively discover intelligence from optical or infra-red devices in the air on drones, for example, or spread over urban, suburban, and rural environments.

NEXT PAGE: The Jetson Pod and Fly by droning

  1. These experiments could change the way we live
  2. Going up and a vegetarian robot
  3. The robotic gardener and the dark side
  4. Buzzing and Big Brother
  5. The Jetson Pod and Fly by droning
  6. The all-consuming AI system and NASA and the micro-bots


From robots that eat and shrink to invincible soldiers and smart drones, advanced science projects will alter our universe. We look at 12 of the best.

The Jetson pod

It looks a little like the flying car belonging to cartoon characters the Jetsons but it travels on magnetically levitated highways.

That's one vision of a future commuter system that could be developed by a marriage of NASA robot-control software and car-like pods from Unimodal Systems.

Specifically, Unimodal's SkyTran will use small vehicles running on elevated, magnetically levitated (maglev) guideways, which distinguishes it from other railed systems.

The vehicles are lightweight, personal compartments that can transport up to three passengers, according to Unimodal.

Travellers board the pod-like vehicles and type their destinations into a small computer. Using intelligent control system software, SkyTran will run non-stop point-to-point service without interrupting the flow of traffic, the company said.

Fly by droning

By 2047 the US Air Force says unmanned aircraft with blazing artificial intelligence systems could fly over a target and determine whether to unleash lethal weapons - without human intervention. Nothing could go wrong there!

Such intelligent unmanned aircraft were described in the Air Force's 'Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047' report, which outlines the service's future use of drones.

The Air Force said that assuming the decision is reached to allow some degree of aircraft autonomy, commanders must retain the ability to refine the level of autonomy the aircraft will be granted just as they set rules of engagement for the personnel under their command today.

NEXT PAGE: The all-consuming AI system and NASA and the micro-bots

  1. These experiments could change the way we live
  2. Going up and a vegetarian robot
  3. The robotic gardener and the dark side
  4. Buzzing and Big Brother
  5. The Jetson Pod and Fly by droning
  6. The all-consuming AI system and NASA and the micro-bots


From robots that eat and shrink to invincible soldiers and smart drones, advanced science projects will alter our universe. We look at 12 of the best.

The all-consuming AI system

DARPA is building avant-garde artificial intelligence (AI) software known as a Machine Reading Program (MRP) that can capture knowledge from naturally occurring text and transform it into the formal representations used by AI reasoning systems.

The idea is that such an intelligent learning system would unleash a wide variety of new AI applications - military and civilian - ranging from intelligent bots to personal tutors.

DARPA says all of the text on the web will become available for automating the monitoring and will allow the AI program to analyse all sorts of activities from technological to political.

NASA and the micro-bots

Some experts are proposing NASA or possibly a commercial space entity develop semi-automous robots that could be sent to explore and build outposts in space.

What some are suggesting is that NASA restructure its space exploration strategy to adopt telepresence-based microbots as the way to achieve space exploration goals without developing manned spacecraft and all of the expense and risk that entails.

Microbots could supply the information that, fed to computers, would let us explore alien planets in the same way that we navigate the virtual spaces of video games or wander through online environments like Second Life.

See also: Five technologies that will change the face of IT

  1. These experiments could change the way we live
  2. Going up and a vegetarian robot
  3. The robotic gardener and the dark side
  4. Buzzing and Big Brother
  5. The Jetson Pod and Fly by droning
  6. The all-consuming AI system and NASA and the micro-bots