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Liquid armor that hardens on impact to protect frontline troops

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July 20, 2010

As part of a project to create future body armor offering soldiers greater ballistics protection and ease of movement, scientists and engineers at BAE Systems have developed a liquid which hardens when struck. The technology, dubbed “liquid armor” by its developers, harnesses the unique properties of shear thickening or dilatant fluids that "lock" together when subjected to a force and is designed to enhance the existing energy absorbing properties of material structures like Kevlar.

Ceramic based armor plates used in current body armor systems to cover large areas of the torso are heavy and bulky, restricting movement and contributing to fatigue, particularly in harsh environments like Afghanistan. The liquid armor is designed to offer troops increased protection with reduced mass, wider area cover, greater maneuverability and easy integration with other systems. To this end, BAE says it can be integrated into standard Kevlar body armor to offer superior freedom of motion and a reduction in overall thickness of up to 45 percent.

“The technology is best explained by the example of stirring water with a spoon,” says Stewart Penney, Head of Business Development for Design and Materials Technologies at BAE Systems. “In water you feel little resistance to the spoon. Whereas with ‘liquid armor’, you would feel significant resistance as the elements in the fluid lock together. The faster you stir, the harder it gets, so when a projectile impacts the material at speed, it hardens very quickly and absorbs the impact energy.”

When integrated with Kevlar, the reduced flow of the fluids in the liquid armor restricts the motion of the fabric yarns in relation to each other, resulting in an increase in area over which the impact energy is dispersed. As a result, the material is also far less likely to distort than standard body armor, which generally bends inwards when a bullet strikes, preventing death, but causing considerable pain.

Trials conducted at BAE Systems’ Advanced Technology Centre in Filton have shown the liquid armor allows thinner than standard armor to withstand equivalent levels of forces. An early prototype of the technology has been demonstrated to the UK Ministry of Defence and in the future BAE Systems hope to further develop liquid armor to create a super lightweight version of the material and incorporate the technology into body armor systems.

The team at BAE Systems is considering applications of the technology beyond the military. Penney said: “In addition to increasing the ballistic performance of combat body armor there is potential for developing a version that could be of interest to police forces and ambulance crews.”

We wouldn’t mind getting our hands on BAE Systems’ liquid armor so we can whack our resident armor tester, Loz, with a saucepan and see how it stacks up against d3o’s motorcycle armor that also uses shear thickening material.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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7 Comments

This Armor is awsome. Thx Giz Mag for the info.

Facebook User
20th July, 2010 @ 11:33 am PDT

This sounds like what happens with cornflour when it is mixed with water. It appears to be a liquid, until you touch it, Then it becomes almost solid. On Mythbusters, they actually ran over a tank filled with it. The problem would be keeping the liquid in place.

windykites1
20th July, 2010 @ 04:00 pm PDT

when i first found out about this, i instantly thought of i an idea i a ways back (a good 4 years atleast), using kevlar pouches filled with cornstarch and water (a non newtonium fluid)...but with this, couldnt that make thin kevlar tubes and fill the tubes with shear thickening material, ta make a full body armour suit similar to a scuba divers wet suit?

this stuff has sooo much potenial

Breonte Openyoureyes Brooks
20th July, 2010 @ 09:51 pm PDT

I'm doing my IB extended essay on the possibility of doing this with corn starch, and the answer is NO. After less than a week, the stuff starts smelling of vomit! So I'm guessing it simply rots. Perhaps a solvent that is a serious antiseptic would be useful.

Michael Trigatzis
4th October, 2010 @ 10:16 am PDT

Crysis?? Maximum Armor!!

Dev Malya Ghosh
29th March, 2013 @ 03:29 pm PDT

no. just no. Police DO NOT need this. they already militarize. and there is so much corruption in the police force that this would just enhance the brutality towards civilians. you are going to regret this creation. as did the scientists that designed the nuclear bomb.

Randy Len Miller
20th August, 2013 @ 04:29 pm PDT

Randy... this is nothing even remotely comparable to a nuclear weapon. Go read the Gizmag review of the similar product marketed for motorcyclists... it's barely even better than the standard foam armor.

- Think this is what you're referring to: http://www.gizmag.com/d3o-motorcycle-armour-trauma-test/14227/ - Ed.

Wiley E. Coyoté
20th August, 2013 @ 05:50 pm PDT
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