Heinlein predicts again

Starship Troopers was Robert Heinlein’s novel about future soldiers. One feature of the book, besides a very right-wing political stance, was the suits worn by the soldiers in battle. Just as inventors made real the remote controlled hands in Heinlein’s novella Waldo, the military is looking to nanotechnology and MIT to make battle suits.

An article in Acumen puts it this way:

In the language of the U.S. military, [the soldier] has not been hardened. The infantry soldier is, as it were, a hairless, cowering ape, alone in the most lethal environment that human ingenuity has been able to conceive.

The military wants to turn the hairless ape into a mechasoldier – lethal and hard to kill. The new suits should have “exomuscles” to amplify solders’ strength, “kevlar on steroids” to make them bullet- and shrapnel-proof, biosensors galore, etc., etc. It sounds just like Starship Troopers, but sensitive and accurate waldoes seemed far-fetched when Heinlein first discribed them.

The truth is, no one knows whether such a suit can be made with current technology. The military is only looking for “proof of concept” within five years. Personally, I think they’ll get that proof. The technology is moving quickly, and sometimes all it takes is a monetary nudge to bring a crazy idea from theory to practice.

About Peg.

Peg has a PhD in neuroscience and has a mind like a cocker spaniel. New scientific questions are like squeaky toys. She makes her living consulting with university faculty members on the fine art of grantsmanship, writes fiction for fun, and considers herself a wetware hacker.


  1. I understand that since Napolean (i.e., since the dawn of large-scale mechanistic destruction), the extremities have by far been the site of the most common battlefield wounds. I believe the military typically analyzes battle risks in terms of casualties without distinguishing severity. So I guess the most effective “protection” will be to prevent injuries to the extremeties (or at least, to stem the flow of blood from them). Taken to the extreme, soldiers will be hired hands and legs. “Manpower” will be etymologically correct. (”The hand that powers.”)

  2. “So I guess the most effective “protection” will be to prevent injuries to the extremeties (or at least, to stem the flow of blood from them.”

    One thing on the wish list for the suit is automatic tourniquets.

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