Every year, James Rollins puts out these wonderful pulp novels with unlikely characters doing marvelous things and saving the world from long-hidden threats, and I read them as a guilty pleasure. Many of the characters of these novels are part of SIGMA, a fictional team acting under the rubric of DARPA, the U.S. Government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. They always have the neatest toys.
In real life, however, DARPA truly is involved in creating some of the latest defense technology to help our soldiers on the front lines. Check out BigDog, developed by Boston Dynamics, a creation of remarkable programming and engineering. This thing can hop over land mines to deliver supplies on the battlefield. Watch the video and see some of the amazing feats of agility this machine is capable of. It stays up when you or I would fall . . .
EDIT: I tried to upload the video but it appears to be too large, so you'll have to click the link to see the video. It's worth it!
My only thought is that at times BigDog seems very loud, like a lawnmower, however on a noisy battlefield this shouldn't be too much of a concern.
For a creepier (pun intended once you see the video) project, check out DARPA's RiSE, the climbing robot. I can't wait for the home version to scare people with--and am definitely reminded of Runaway.
One last item: browsing the DARPA site is always interesting, if only to find out what they're soliciting ideas for right now. My current favorite open solicitation:
Added: Jun 04, 2008 2:18 pm
DARPA seeks to develop a dynamic putty which, when packed in/around a compound bone fracture, provides full load-bearing capabilities within hours, creates an osteoconductive bone-like internal structure, and degrades over time to harmless resorbable by-products as normal bone regenerates.