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Rice University to Develop 3D Printed Smart Helmet for the Military

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3D Printed Smart Helmet
Above: (Left to Right) Paul Cherukuri along with Task Force members Pulickel Ajayan (Chair, Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering) & Reginald DesRoches (Professor of Civil. Environmental & Mechanical Engineering)/Image Source: Rice University

Rice University researchers have been awarded $1.3 million by the Office of Naval Research through the Defense Research University Instrumentation Program to develop the world’s first 3D printed smart helmet for military use. For the development of the helmets, the team will use industrial-grade 3D printers.

The task force includes the labs of materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan, civil and environmental engineer and Rice Provost Reginald DesRoches, mechanical engineer Marcia O’Malley, chemist James Tour and Veeraraghavan.

The 3D printed Smart Helmet program, led by principal investigator Paul Cherukuri, executive director of Rice’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, aims to modernize standard-issue military helmets by 3D-printing a nanomaterial-enhanced exoskeleton with embedded sensors to actively protect the brain against kinetic or directed-energy effects.

3D Printed Smart Helmet

3D printed smart helmet
Above: Rice University developed 3D printed smart helmet for the military is intended to modernize standard-issue military helmets/Image Source: Rice University

Rice will use Carbon’s L1 3D printer to create a military-grade helmet that incorporates advances in materials, image processing, artificial intelligence, haptic feedback, and energy storage. The L1 printer allows for rapid prototyping, which simplifies the process of incorporating the sensors, cameras, batteries, and wiring harnesses required by the program.

“Current helmets have evolved little since the last century and are still heavy, bulky, passive devices. Because of advances in sensors and additive manufacturing, we’re now reimagining the helmet as a 3D printed, AI-enabled, ‘always-on’ wearable that detects threats near or far and is capable of launching countermeasures to protect soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Essentially, we’re building J.A.R.V.I.S.”

– Paul Cherukuri, Executive Director of Rice’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering

J.A.R.V.I.S. (Just A Rather Very Intelligent System) is a fictional character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film franchise.

The FlatCam, a system developed by co-investigator and electrical and computer engineer Ashok Veeraraghavan and his colleagues that incorporates sophisticated image processing to eliminate the need for bulky lenses, as well as Cherukuri’s Teslaphoresis, a type of tractor beam for nanomaterials that could help create physical and electromagnetic shields inside the helmets, will be used in the Smart Helmet program.

Cherukuri added, “A smart helmet task force has been assembled from some of the finest minds at Rice to tackle the challenge of creating a self-contained, intelligent system that protects the war fighter at all times. We’ve got a lot of innovative tech in university labs that has never seen the light of day. We’re simply developing that technology into a device that gives the men and women protecting our country a real chance at coming home safe and sound. This is for them.”


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