Magazine article Newsweek

Bond Would Love This; Singapore's Military Research Arm Turns out Combat Suits and Stealth Warships Straight out of the Movies

Magazine article Newsweek

Bond Would Love This; Singapore's Military Research Arm Turns out Combat Suits and Stealth Warships Straight out of the Movies

Article excerpt

Byline: Alexandra A. Seno

Lee Shang Ping's radio is dead. So he jogs in place, then jumps up and down for a few minutes. Then he offers up his earphone, now blaring a Mandarin pop song live from a local Singapore radio station. The radio hidden in his camouflage suit runs on energy generated when he steps on cells embedded in the soles of his running shoes, and by the movement of motion-sensitive canisters in his pockets. The hope is to someday operate larger devices like mobile phones or personal-digital-assistant machines this way. Lee is a "human power harvesting" engineer in Singapore's Mixed Reality Lab.

Mixed Reality is working on new ways of interacting with computers, ranging from wearable devices to a virtual war room that will allow officials to work together online as if they were all in one place. Its director is a spiky-haired Australian, a postmodern match for James Bond's gadget man, Q. It is funded by the Defence Science & Technology Agency, a center of far-out research that is Singapore's answer to DARPA, the secretive Pentagon research unit that takes partial credit for inventing the Internet. Only the DSTA is much larger, relatively speaking. It controls half the $5 billion defense budget, and sponsors hundreds of research projects every year. The agency came to worldwide attention last year when it took just one day to customize a thermal scanner in order to detect travelers with high fever, helping to stem the spread of SARS.

DSTA is now working on a range of projects that are attracting attention in both the commercial and military worlds. It devised an air-conditioning system that harnesses melting ice and cool seawater to conserve electricity at the new Changi Naval Base, and could have broad civilian applications. It is working on 3-D virtual-reality projects with the potential to revolutionize videogames and home shopping, including one it calls the "virtual Japanese garden," in which surfers navigate with a paddle in three dimensions, rather than a cursor in two. …

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