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Their shared love of expensive tech toys and massive grants to buy them with meant it was only a matter of time before the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and us.mil* got together. And so it came to pass - yesterday saw the unveiling of an MIT army contract to set up the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, and an opportunity for US Army chief scientist Michael Andrews to do the PR bit in aid of the military budget.

Actually, it's starting to occur to us that we're maybe too hard on the military by habitually claiming it knowingly peddles glossy visions of wondrous future technology to keep its coffers brimming. It is after all possible that many of them are genuinely entranced - albeit at the expense of the citizenry - by Hollywood technovisions. Poor Andrews does concede the Predator suit is science fiction, but then spoils it by adding that "it portrays what might be possible."

Whatever, Andrews appears to have played a storm with Reuters. "If you want to visualize the impact of nanotechnology, think about the movie 'Predator.' It's about the ability to have a uniform that protects you totally against your environment." Which, apart from the movie bit, is almost plausible.

Somehow (possibly aided by the out of work actors playing "mock futuristic warriors"), however, Reuters seems to have come away with a slightly more advanced impression. "The idea is to develop high-tech gear that would allow soldiers to become partially invisible, leap over walls, and treat their own wounds on the battlefield," it babbles. "Instead of bulky bullet-proof vests made of Kevlar, ISN scientists envision uniforms lined with a slurry of fluids that respond to magnetic fields, creating an armor system that can go from flexible to stiff during combat."

Actually, practically all of that does come into DARPA's strategic plan, itself an impressive 'give me money' brochure, but most of it is a good bit over the horizon. We don't remember the "become partially invisible" bit, but that may just be chameleon suits.

The more likely next steps are revealed a little further on - light-weight fabrics that change colour depending on environment (aren't you looking forward to a big eagle appearing across the general's uniform when he walks to the front of the briefing room?), electronics woven into the material, and the strangely-elusive ultra-compact fuel cell to power it all.

And the other stuff? Say, the instant body armour? "Within five years we will see the first inklings of what might give us probably increased ballistic protection," Andrews told Reuters, seemingly coming down with something of a bump. But give us your money to fund our future might-be probable inklings anyway. ®

* A small unrelated query. The Register has noted that US .mil sites are not accessible from various places in France, but mysteriously become accessible if you dial through to a UK provider. We think it's something bizarre to do with DNS servers, but does anyone know what, or why?

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