The Pentagon’s New Booby Trap Puts an Instant Wall in Your Face
Automatic device creates instant barriers to block intruders
“Success!” The fiendish terrorist leader grips his Kalashnikov in exultation. He and his men have successfully assaulted a U.S. military base.
Sirens blare. Security forces have detected the intruders. But the terrorists are only moments away from forcing their way into an arms locker.
The terrorist leader rechecks the diagram in his hand and waves at his men. Turn left down this corridor and … wait a minute, there shouldn’t be a wall there.
Okay, go down the next hallway. Hold on—there’s a web of sticky plastic blocking the way.
Gunfire echoes as the security forces close in. ‘What’s going on here?’ the terrorists wonder.
What’s going on is a booby trap that the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing in order to erect instant walls in intruders’ paths.
The Block Access to Deny Entry project, or “BlockADE,” is supposed to create automatic barriers to block entry into certain rooms.
The DARPA proposal emphasizes the automatic part. Think of it as a land mine—except that instead of exploding, it throws an obstacle right in an intruder’s face.
DARPA envisions BlockADE as securing arms caches inside buildings and installing outside walls and fences as an instant security perimeter. BlockADE could also serve as a humanitarian tool, constructing temporary shelters for victims of natural disasters.
The agency wants “a compact system filled with a material and/or device that when remotely triggered, can expand by orders of magnitude.” In other words, a relatively small device that blooms into a giant obstacle.
Like silly string, Cheez Whiz or insulating foam.
And not just any obstacle. DARPA desires a device that can create obstacles with “mechanical strength for solid barriers, stickiness or sharpness for web or briar-like barriers, capacity to self-weld or self-assemble, etc.”
Web-like barriers? Self-assembling walls? This sounds like science fiction or a Dungeons & Dragons game. Or maybe Wiley E. Coyote running thwack! into a wall that wasn’t there a moment ago.
Yet the agency believes the concept is feasible, if researchers can improve on existing technologies—such as foams, shape-memory alloys, pop-up structures, polymers, self-assembling technologies and shape-changing materials.
DARPA is also interested in “autonomous systems,” which suggests that that the wall-building device may include artificial intelligence.
Not bad for a system that’s supposed to be just seven feet long and weigh only 300 pounds.
If successful, the potential of instant barriers is vast. Demonstrators seized the U.S. embassy in Iran in 1979. In Libya in 2012, militants attacked and burned the American consulate. The Taliban frequently attack government and private buildings in Afghanistan.
An instant barricade might not repel a determined assault, but it could give people a chance to escape.
Instant walls and webs could be extremely useful both to keep intruders out and to keep prisoners in. On the other hand, automatic walls could backfire if they accidentally block exits during a fire.