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Flexible Body Armor 210

dotmax writes "One item to pop out of the Turin Winter Olympics is the use of flexible body armor. Similar to silly putty, this shear rate material is flexible under normal load and hardens under impact. Sounds expensive, but could offer some great alternatives for traditional hard shelled impact gear in active sports and military applications."
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Flexible Body Armor

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  • by XorNand ( 517466 ) * on Saturday February 18, 2006 @02:48PM (#14750541)
    Skiwear company Spyder, based in Colorado, US, developed racing suits incorporating d3o along the shins and forearms and offered members of the US and Canadian Olympic alpine ski teams the chance to try them out several months ago. "Now they love it and won't ski without it," claims Richard Palmer, CEO of UK-based d3o Labs, which developed the material.
    I don't get it. What's the advantage of using flexible armor on body parts that don't flex? If it works as advertised, seems like this product would be more useful on the torso, back, neck, or near joints. Maybe I'm just jaded, but I'd bet that the skiers really couldn't care less about it. The CEO, on the other hand, now gets to brag about his new technology being used in the Olympics. Cycling and golf is full of this type of crap--technology and jargon used more as a marketing tool than to really enhance the product's performance.
    • What's the advantage of using flexible armor on body parts that don't flex?

      Try telling a downhill skiier crashing into a wall at over 100 MPH that there are body parts that don't flex. I'm sure they'll happily believe you and give up their armor.
      • by Kelbear ( 870538 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @03:05PM (#14750656)
        Please don't think I'm trying to be mean here. Assume a friendly tone:P

        But I don't quite follow. The grandparent poster was skeptical about the value of flexible armor over parts that should never bend. If your shin is bending significantly, your shin's probably broken.

        Flexible armor is useful over flexing parts of your body so that you can get maximum utility. Like a flexible elbow pad, it'd let you bend your elbow easier and more powerfully. But over your non-bending shin, you'd just want the strongest protection possible here right? Shouldn't be any cases where your shin is bending.
        • A shin may be rigid, but it sits between two joints. Any movement in those joints will jostle the armor over the shin. Also, a shin is backed by a great big muscle that moves around quite a bit. Both factors will make wearing rigid armor annoying.
        • by Scarblac ( 122480 ) <> on Saturday February 18, 2006 @04:09PM (#14751013) Homepage

          But I don't quite follow. The grandparent poster was skeptical about the value of flexible armor over parts that should never bend. If your shin is bending significantly, your shin's probably broken.

          Close your left hand over your right lower arm. Now turn move your hand left and right, up and down, flex the muscles... that thing moves a lot. The shin likewise has muscles and two bones in it. Apparently the sporters like this flexible thing better than rigid protectors, so it seems to help.

          Why the poster calls this "body armor" i'm not sure though, according to TFA this is purely about shin and arm protection, the areas that get into contact with the sticks during slalom skiing.

        • by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @04:32PM (#14751126)
          But I don't quite follow. The grandparent poster was skeptical about the value of flexible armor over parts that should never bend. If your shin is bending significantly, your shin's probably broken.

          Consider putting it over your upper arm. Your bicep flexes, the bone underneath does not. But if you've ever hit a gate at high speed, you'd LOVE some armor over your upper arm.
          A rigid plate works, but is much harder to work with. A flexible plate, that moves as your muscles contract, would be a lot better.

          Your tibia doesn't flex (a lot), but the skin and muscle between the bone and the outside world does.

        • I see two things that make this look very enticing.

          1) It is most likely lighter than hardened armor.
          2) While a shin won't bend, it will most likely twist and the muscles flex. This armor allows the user to have protection without gaps that would normally allow the user to move their bodies the way they need to to get down the hill fastest.
        • The point is, that they use them on "non-flexible parts" as an additional exo-skeleton to their skeleton to help strengthen limbs on impact so they dont break.

          I.e., you come hurtling at a wall.. you smack your shin on the corner.. the armour hardens to reduce impact inertia, therefore reducing impact on the bone and reducing the chances of a breakage. It's not bruises that kill the skiiers career, it's shattered bones :)

      • Try telling a downhill skiier crashing into a wall at over 100 MPH that there are body parts that don't flex.

        I doubt this stuff is going to have much protection against hitting a wall at 100MPH. The article says that racers are using this stuff on their arms and legs to protect against hitting the poles. I'm sure without protection hitting those poles as hard as they do is going to hurt like hell. If you hit a wall at 100mph, no amount of body armour is going to save you, as all your internal organs are
      • Only Xtreme downhill skiiers have pistes with walls on !

        but perhaps you missed THE OPENING SENTENCE :

        A futuristic flexible material that instantly hardens into armour upon impact will protect US and Canadian skiers from injury on the slalom runs at this year's Winter Olympics.

        RTFA idiot
    • What's the advantage of using flexible armor on body parts that don't flex?

      Having rigid plates even on parts of the body that flex less is bulky and cumbersome. Flexible armour is a great concept - far less noticable in normal conditions than some of the rigid ski body armour solutions e.g. Dainese []

      BTW For the pseudo science and some nice pictures of 'molecules' see the 3DO website []

    • by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @03:08PM (#14750674)
      There are advantages to having something flexible against your skin that will harden on impact. One of those is comfort. Hard plastic guards aren't comfortable and are very obvious (and more than likely hurt aerodynamics). In addition the forearms have muscles on them which if you use your muscles at all tend to flex and expand. Having a flexible soft guard on those body parts would be incredible.
    • by dogugotw ( 635657 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @03:08PM (#14750675)
      Ever wear shin pads or arm protectors? Ever notice that they need to be strapped on and chafe like a SOB? I'd love to get my hands on something like this. Built into an undersuit, moves with you, no staps, lightweight and instant protection when you hit something. I'd like to know that my non-moving bones (shins, radius/ulna, skull) were wrapped in protection when the jerk in an SUV cuts in front of my motorcycle and takes me down.

      FWIW, this stuff sounds like what happens to a semi-liquid mix of cornstarch and water. Slide your hand in and it drops into the fluid; hit it hard and no penetration at all.

    • Have you ever had a rigid shin guard strapped to your leg. If you have, you realize that after a short time, it starts to abraid your leg, because while your shin bone itself is not stretching and deforming, the skin around it is constantly moving. It's particularly obvious in the old rollerblades with the plastic tops that would strap over your shins. If the material can flow some, that means that not only will it be a close to perfect fit, but if it happens to shift off of your leg because you've jogge
    • Having non-flexable armor, even on non-flexing parts of the body, allows for faster and easier movement. Think about it, a space suit has flexable material at every human joint, but it is still a pain to manuver in.
    • by tetromino ( 807969 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @03:58PM (#14750959)
      ...and frankly, this flexible armor sounds great. The reason you want some kind of protection is that you (sometimes in speed events, very often in slalom) run into gates (the plastic poles stuck in the snow that you have to turn around) with various parts of your body. Since you are going fast, and you are wearing a thin aerodynamic racing suit, it hurts like hell. So, if you don't feel like getting hurt, you strap on some plastic shin and arm guards, sort of like an Ancient Greek warrior with his greaves. Anyway, these plastic guards really are not the ideal solution. They chafe (since you are strapping them on tight, and the muscles and skin under the straps are constantly moving). They limit your motions quite a bit. They are, frankly, uncomfortable. And if you are doing speed events, they kill your aerodynamics.

      So, as far as I am concerned, flexible armor is totally the way to go. Hopefully FIS won't ban it.
    • try re-reading the opening sentence again with my emphasis :

      A futuristic flexible material that instantly hardens into armour upon impact will protect US and Canadian skiers from injury on the slalom runs at this year's Winter Olympics.
    • I'm a catcher, and let me tell you, those shin guards are a pain in the ass, not to mention time-consuming to take off an on -- I hate being on-deck with 2 out because of it.
      I'd love something like this for baseball or softball.
  • by Shag ( 3737 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @02:49PM (#14750548)
    Since it only hardens on impact, could it also be used in hand weaponry?

    "Honest, officer, we just came across him and he was beaten to a pulp. You can search us, go ahead, we ain't got nothin' but our gym towels..."
    • by Pulse_Instance ( 698417 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @02:52PM (#14750560)
      One more reason to never leave the home without your towel.
    • Nobody reads the old classics any more... "Stand on Zanzibar", by John Brunner - a book very much worth reading.

      At any rate, like the book mentions in passing... just make a glove out of this material. I think the book's version was a half-glove (covering the palm and only part of the fingers) so you can do delicate work with your hands, but if you threw a fist or simply chopped... instant brass knuckles at the point of contact.

      Depending on how good this material is, a full body suit may be incredibly usefu
      • This stuff sounds like the impact gel armour described in Shadowrun.
      • Nobody I know (read: no techies) read Stand on Zanzibar, but I get the feeling that it's required reading at internet and media companies. Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere are scarily close, and Gmail is making them closer. What happens when every citizen's internet connection becomes a flattering, subtly manipulative mirror?
  • impressive? (Score:4, Funny)

    by d34thm0nk3y ( 653414 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @02:51PM (#14750552)
    I might be impressed, but only if it uses a Holtzman Fields somehow....
  • any reason (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by LiquidMind ( 150126 )
    any particular reason these suits vaguely resemble that of spiderman's?
    could this be some geek-inventor's (redundant, i know) idea of making his childhood dream of being a superhero come true?

    • Re:any reason (Score:3, Informative)

      by Meostro ( 788797 )
      any particular reason these suits vaguely resemble that of spiderman's?
      From TFA:
      Skiwear company Spyder, based in Colorado, US, developed racing suits incorporating d3o along the shins and forearms...
  • by 88NoSoup4U88 ( 721233 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @02:53PM (#14750568)
    Hehe, I guess they shouldn't be giving anyone wearing this a slap on the shoulder after a win: He/She will instantly be packaged in a concrete cocoon!*

    *Disclaimer: May be exaggerated

  • by luvirini ( 753157 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @02:53PM (#14750571)
    The things that happen when struck by a bullet or shrapnel are different than a skier hitting the ground. This material could perhaps help to make the impact plates, but the actual stopping of the penetration will likely need "normal means"
    • However, Green believes it may be possible to alter the properties of d3o for new impact-protection and anti-trauma applications. "There are certainly opportunities to dabble with the chemistry and enhance the effect," Even if it can't stop bullets right now, the future may be a diffrent storey. The article also says they haven't been able to find a way to adaquately test it's hardness yet. It would be interesting to see the results of a test involving d3o and a 9mm round. Even if it dosn't stop somethi
      • It is not the kevlar that is a problem but the metal (or ceramic) plates use in the vest. If it is possible to make a suit with kevlar layered over the d3o, it would make current body armour obsolete.
        • The kevlar is mainly used for shrapnel and such. It has little impact on a full metal jacket round. The metal plate protects against the round. It's unlikely that d3o will ever match the stopping power of a metal plate.

          However, d3o could be very useful in non-military bullet proof vests. Currently, a round can be stopped by kevlar but it still penetrates the body and effectively immobilizes whoever gets hit. A layer of d3o could help dissipate the energy over a larger area and prevent serious damage

    • It may not stop bullets, but it could make riot shields outdated if you're now invulnerable to Riot Rocks. Though I'd question how much it would help against a molotov. Dunno, but if it were me putting my life on the line, I'd want any protection offered to me.
    • Actually, this stuff may work better than you think. Have you seen the episode of Mythbusters where they shoot high powered rifles into water? Amazingly, the faster the bullet, the more protection you got from the water, since the fluid tended to cause the bullets to disintegrate.

      I could imagine stuff like this acting like a fluid and work better than traditional plate armor. It would definitely be an interesting experiment.

  • by eMartin ( 210973 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @02:53PM (#14750572)
    Now when spies want to copy documents, they can just tear off a piece of their armor and press it against the pages.
  • by Jelloman ( 69747 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @02:54PM (#14750579)
    In other news, 98% of women polled can't wait until they start making condoms out of this stuff.
  • But Phil Green, research director at d3o Labs, says it is difficult to precisely measure the material's properties because the hardening effect only last as long as the impact itself.

    Certainly a researcher could take a sample of this material and strike it with increasing force using a material with known hardness. That might get them an answer beyond: "we don't know." I'm skeptical of this material's utility in a military application. Particularly as body armor against high velocity bullets and shrapnel. Woven carbon and Kevlar seem still unmatched in its capacity to take a high impact round. But, like I said, an assault riffle and a material sample could answer that question in minutes...
    • That is why the statement is like that.. they do not want to know how crappy their product it.
    • How about using it in hard hats or safety boots (currently steel toed)

      There's a lot of applications for this type of material

      Woven carbon and Kevlar seem still unmatched in its capacity to take a high impact round.

      But I don't think it'll replace Kevlar & carbon fiber.

      Even the Army's current Kevlar helmets won't actually stop any military rounds. If you're lucky, the bullet will come in at an angle and get deflected, but that's about all the use those heavy helmets are good for. Deflecting bullets and wo

    • I agree completely. And I doubt this would be a replacement for typical body armor. But, if this material works, why not make the BDU out of it? Make it a supplement to normal armor, not a replacement, and you end up with a little extra protection and benefit with no loss of flexibility and no increased weight. Seems like a win win except possibly for the cost. Granted this doesn't take into account other issues such as surviving the wear and tear a BDU will go through in its lifespan, etc... But it c
    • The strain rate hardening effect is velocity dependent but also requires time. As body armour is wouldn't be fast enough to stop a bullet. Hence it hasn't been used yet in military armour. It could be developed to have been ballistic properties. For example using it in conjunction with kevlar/ceramic armour might allow for lighter more flexible armour. There's probably a whole lot of development needed before that happens. It might be useful for other applications such as light armour to stop knives, clubs
      • For body armor purpses:
        The material's reaction time is probably related to how fast the shock-wave of the hit travels through the material. For the sake of arguement: The of the impact shockwave travels through the suit at the same speed sounds travels in water (sound is a shockwave). So it travels roughly 1482 m/s. So the shockwave would take roughly 0.0001 seconds to travel across my entire chest. Modern bullets can travel roughly the same speeds. In that same 0.0001 seconds a bullet would be several inc
    • I can't seem to find the article right now, but I remember reading about researchers who were looking at incorporating non-newtonian fluids like this into kevlar jackets. The material was basically cosmetic wax mixed with nano-silicate particles, and became solid under pressure. When you worked the material into a fabric it would act as armor, and what better fabric to work it into than kevlar. Most bullet-proof jackets are not entirely kevlar, and have solid plates over critical areas. The preliminary test
  • by F34nor ( 321515 ) * on Saturday February 18, 2006 @02:56PM (#14750592)
    Sounds like gel suit armor. Let's hope you like your suits personality.
  • by JRock911 ( 848012 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @03:05PM (#14750653)
    I do a lot of inline skating and I can see where this stuff could be revolutionary for outdoor inlining, skateboarding, etc.

    Personally, I don't wear pads because they're uncomfortable. I do wear a helmet and palm sliders, which are supposed to help keep your palms from getting skinned up in an actual fall by serving as a buffer between your palms and the asphalt. In theory, they work pretty good. When you fall going upwards of 30MPH, they aren't a lot of help. Once you hit the ground, even if you initially brace with your palms, momentum is pretty much going to send you wherever it wants.

    Being able to wear a long sleeved shirt or pants made of this stuff to help protect the knees and elbows would be huge. I have a road rash spot on my elbow now from a fall last weekend. Granted I don't fall much.. that was the first time in over a year I've had a crash and it was a very minor crash but even still, I'd probably wear this stuff for safety if it was available and not terribly bulky. Most inliners who are serious wear skin suits or jerseys so substituting this stuff would pretty much have no downsides as long as, like I said, it wasn't too bulky.

    On the flip side, most skateboarders want to look "extreme" so this stuff might not be a huge hit with them. I personally like my skin intact, however.
  • by Meostro ( 788797 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @03:05PM (#14750655) Homepage Journal
    Looks like they use a Non-Newtonian fluid [], that's the type of material that has these properties.

    This was one of the cooler demonstration in my HS chemistry class, the teacher made up a big batch of water + corn starch, and was playing with it like mud, squishing it around and whatnot. Then he beat the hell out of it, and it just sat there and didn't splash, it looked (and sounded) like it was a solid sheet. It was odd to see something that was very dynamic under low force, but static under high force.

    It's like a seatbelt, if you yank it hard it locks up, but if you pull gently it will extend.
    • by MustardMan ( 52102 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @03:15PM (#14750711)
      There's an entire field that deals with studying the properties of these and similar "weird" materials. It's called soft condensed matter. It happens to be the field in which I'm currently working ;)

      Corn starch is the standard example almost everyone uses when trying to describe our field to laymen. The other one we use a lot is the term "squishy physics", but that one sometimes gets us mocked by the ignorant who think "nuclear physics" is for smart people and "squishy physics" is for the dumbasses.
    • Non-newtonian only means that a liquid can change volume under pressure to some extent. That is all. Common examples of non-newtonian liquids are blood and paint.

      This material has a very unusual hardening property. Possibly it is a non-newtonian liquid, but if it is, then that is not what is remarkable about it.

  • It seems to have the same properties to custard powder, so it you want to know what its like you can play with it yourself... it does sound like a more practicle set up though, also if it could stop a bullet it would be useful to put under body armour (and could go over the head)... the only problem is the impact which would break all the bones in that area... hmm, could even be worse than a through and through...

    anywho, about the custard, if you mix custard powder with water (I'm not sure of exact quant
    • I had the same thought.

      I still remember the day that my dad showed me this. I freaked! ... The Super Baker ... With his trusty custard armor he valiently sets forth to defend the rights (and density) of pastry chefs everywhere!
    • Let us assume that you are about to be shot in the chest with a 12 gauge 3.5" super-magnum slug, which is overkill for anything short of a bear, or maybe a truck. Let's also assume that you have the option of either wearing the thinnest vest that will stop that slug or nothing at all.

      If you wear the vest then when the slug hits it'll dump all it's energy into your chest. You'll sustain massive blunt trauma on the level of getting smacked with a sledgehammer. Lots of broken ribs, lots of bruising, possibly

  • powdered glass (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <> on Saturday February 18, 2006 @03:07PM (#14750669) Homepage
    The original bullet-resistant vest was flexible. It was made of powdered glass, flexible until hit hard, at which point it would stiffen up and spread the force of the impact.
  • "Similar to silly putty"

    If it were more like Flubber (if you remember this you are an old geek) the projectiles would bounce back at the source.
  • Louis Wu unavailable for comment.

  • ...just pick out your favorite newspaper cartoon, press the armor on it, and presto! You're riding into battle with your favorite character. Forget "Death From Above". Nothing says combat like Peanuts or Foxtrot.
  • Larry Niven featured this concept in sci-fi in Ringworld (1970) - he called it 'Impact Armor' as I recall. Was he the first? Can anyone reference an earlier prediction of this technology?
    • John Brunner's "Stand On Zanzibar", 1968 Hugo Award winner. The item was called "karatands". A soft glove-like material until hardening on impact.
      This is a truly oustanding book that should be digested by geeks everywhere. The political and social points are even more relevant today that 30+ years ago.
  • $14,000 Hammers (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 )
    Why would the Pentagon buy American troops more expensive body armor, just because it works better, when they don't even buy the cheaper stuff that's better than nothing? Maybe a few $BILLION for the defense contractors to "test" it, but none to actually support our troops [] in the line of fire.
  • Very useful (Score:3, Funny)

    by xeeazgk ( 850506 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @04:04PM (#14750987)
    I want to get all my underwear made out of this stuff. That way I'll never have to wear a cup for sports.

    It would also help for when I want to be impertinent to feminists.
  • by wrook ( 134116 ) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @04:33PM (#14751129) Homepage
    I think people are getting the wrong impression here. This is put into suits for slalom and super G athletes. It's not to protect you from a fall, but to protect you from the flags that whip you when you go around them. It's not going to save you when you crash into a tree. It's going to stop you from getting bruises on your arms and legs when you hit the flags.

    Cool idea. But probably not particularly practical in other applications (maybe useful for kendo??? -- but the armour's way cool, so why change :-) )
    • I was thinking about fencing, especially saber where it hurts quite a bit.

      I remember that as a kid our fencing teacher was always saying to go fast but without weight in saber fencing, but the reality is that kids go 'banzaï' with the saber and that you have to put an additionnal sweat shirt to reduce the pain.

      Being wacked with a slalom pole or a saber seems similar so it should work for the body, of course not the helmet..
  • Because you never know when someone is going to do something really really stupid []! (steaming video) FYI: Dawn, the rider, escaped without broken bones thanks, in part, to good gear with armor. (I'm not going link her site for slashdotting on top of all the people who saw the video who checked to see if she was okay.)

    I guess it wouldn't do for helmet padding, which compresses to suck up the force that would otherwise go to the head. (Easier to buy a new helmet than a new head.)

  • Neat but... why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dbucowboy ( 891058 )

    Another potential application may be sound-proofing. The propagation of sound waves should generate a similar strain to an impact, so it may be feasible to create a material that becomes more sound proof in response to increasing noise. "It could have some very interesting, unexplored properties," Green says.

    Kinda cool, but what is the point of scaleable soundproofing? If you want something to be soundproof, why would it need to ever increase or decrease sound proofability? Why not just make it as soundpr

    • Hearing protection. You want to be able to hear sounds at normal volumes but attenuate any loud transient sounds, like weapons being fired. The problem with most hearing protection is that it attenuates everything.
  • The article summary dances around giving a useful description of this material, uses almost all the relevant buzzwords, but in an incomplete manner, and then smegs off at the last moment.

    This is a material which changes it's properties depending on HOW FAST you try to deform it. Specifically, this material is capable of changing from a soft, gooey phase, to a rigid, hard phase instantly just because you attempt to deform the material more quickly than the rate at which the gooey to rigid transformation occu

  • Actually my local SCA group is trying to contact the makers of the armor to see if we can get our hands on a suit of the stuff for our heavy combat. We'd still use traditional metal armor over the suit, but the advantages for full coverage over areas where armor is light or perhaps missing due to a malfunction are considerable.

    Basicaly if it'll protect a skier zipping downhill and whacking into a fiberglass pole, then it ought to help a SCAdian against another chap with bit of a stick.

  • Seriously, this stuff would be awesome for paintball armor.

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson