For enlisted men and women, no mission can have a better outcome than returning home safely. Fortunately, that goal is also occupying the thoughts of some very talented researchers and scientists who are working on ways to guard future soldiers against harm in high-risk situations. Take a look at some of the innovations that may soon find their way onto battlefields. 

1. FLEXIBLE BODY ARMOR 

While plenty of bullet and shock-proof attire is available to soldiers, much of it comes at the expense of mobility. If something is strong enough to withstand high-caliber ammunition, it’s probably not going to help their agility. Fortunately, researchers at leading technological advancement laboratories are closer than ever to perfecting armor that moves with the wearer. Resembling fish scales, it would combine durable outer-layer fragments of material with a thin and flexible membrane. 

2. ANTENNAS 

Not like insect antennae, but closer than you think. The military has its sights set on exterior sensors that will be able to monitor blind spots in a soldier’s field of vision for any unusual activity. If anything is detected, software would alert the user via an audio message or vibration. 

3. LOAD-CARRYING ROBOTS

With technological advancement comes a practical problem: How can the military continue to equip soldiers without weighing them down? Currently, some enlistees wind up carrying over twice as much as the recommended 50-pound limit for supplies. One promising solution: load-bearing robots that essentially tag along on convoys and foot patrols, freeing up the soldiers and reducing fatigue.

4. INSTANT FIRST AID 

The popularity of consumer-use fitness monitors has helped millions of people keep their weight in check. That same principle can also be applied to real-time observation of a soldier’s heart rate, hydration, blood pressure, and physical well-being. If a “smart” suit detects an injury, it could also deploy cauterization, bandages, or pain relievers to the affected area.

5. BIONIC LEGS 

Rapid response to a crisis—or rapid evacuation from one—can often mean the difference between life and death. Military developers are optimistic that a set of leg braces powered by compressed air could help propel soldiers across battlefields faster. The eventual goal? A soldier running a mile under four minutes. 

6. SCOUTING “INSECTS” 

The mild panic we feel when getting lost on a road trip is nothing compared to how a soldier might feel when faced with terrain that could harbor traps, bombs, or other dangerous elements. To help scout areas, scientists are developing a tiny camera that moves along like an inchworm, able to crawl in the tiniest of spaces and transmit images back to the operator; another device, which resembles a fly, will be able to hover over areas contaminated by chemicals to take air samples. 

7. VIRTUAL SOLDIERS 

With science and technology changing so rapidly, there’s not always time to stop and consider what effect certain devices will have on a soldier’s body. University researchers are hoping to change that by writing software that simulates the wear and tear of military life: By predicting which areas of the body are more prone to injury, these fatigued electronic grunts can then inform customized strength and conditioning programs. 

Once you’ve read up on the future of defense technology, click here for a look back at the amazing strides that were made across all different kinds of disciplines during World War I.