Batman would be jealous.
Real-life crimefighters could soon be getting high-tech, military-style outfits that would rival anything the caped crusader had in his fabled Bat suit and utility belt.
The new gear, dubbed LECTUS for Law Enforcement/Corrections Tactical Uniform System, comes courtesy of researchers at the U.S. Army's National Protection Center at the Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., where they have been working for years to modify some of the latest military innovations for use by police on the home front.
Equipped with a LECTUS outfit, cops would be able to see in the dark, absorb bullets and blows without harm, communicate with others with a simple whisper, see through the eyes of remote team members, and walk through clouds of noxious chemicals or smoke without missing a step.
"This could all happen with the blink of an eye," said Rita Gonzalez, director of NPC. "We're so close it's not even funny."
A Suit for the Blues
LECTUS was conceived as a modified version of the military's so-called Land Warrior system — a project that equips soldiers with high-tech communications gear, sensors and weapons. And much of the proposed LECTUS gear, say researchers, has already been field-tested in combat by troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
One part of the LECTUS uniform is an improved helmet called the MICH, or Modular Integrated Communications Helmet. The head gear contains an improved communication setup that does away with the traditional microphone. Instead, MICH uses a "bone-conducting" system that picks up vibrations from the skull when the wearer speaks.
Audio from the radio is produced from built-in headphones that also act as "active protectors." Microphones on the outside of the helmet monitor for sharp, loud noises — gunshots, explosions from flash-bang grenades — and automatically mute before they can shatter an officer's hearing.
Future versions of the helmet, say military researchers, would add more capabilities.
A built-in GPS unit, for example, would provide officers with precise location information. Meanwhile, a small infra-red camera attached to the side would allow police to search darkened rooms or through smoke without requiring a bulky flashlight. Data such as the live video from other LECTUS-equipped officers can be displayed on a tiny screen that floats in front of the wearer.
Sleek and Supple
The material for LECTUS' uniform is nothing extremely exotic for now. Until "smart fabrics" can be identified and created, the shirts and pants of the uniform are mixtures of Cordura nylon and Spandex sections that allow for flexibility and more mobility for the wearer. Standard body armor made of Kevlar and ceramic plates offers protection against 9mm bullets.
Eventually, as smart nanotechnology materials are developed, they could be incorporated into the LECTUS design. The fabric, composed of thin strands of tubes filled with magnets that automatically stiffen against impacts, would offer better protection while saving weight and bulk.
Gonzalez says that traditional tactical uniforms worn by SWAT teams and prison guards aren't the best for certain situations. She notes, for example, that sometimes SWAT teams are called to perform in tough and tight spaces, such as airplanes.
"The [Boston Police] that got the shoe bomber off the airplane two years ago were wearing outfits that were very bulky," says Gonzales. "LECTUS streamlines the operator to get in and out of airplanes and vehicles quickly."