The 10 Coolest Machines From The 2013 Sea-Air-Space Expo

Robots, railguns, and... a Guinness World Record holder?

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I got to see a lot of shiny new military technology at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space Exposition yesterday. The show--the largest largest maritime expo in the United States--is part trade fair, part science fair, and 100 percent geared toward government buyers. Defense researchers, contractors, suppliers, and companies eager to join their ranks arrived to show off their fanciest wares. Here's a gallery of the 10 coolest things I saw.

The Aeros Aerocraft
We've seen the Aeros Aeroscraft before, back when it was a dream and a frame. On display today was... a model, but Aeros is testing a scaled-down prototype. Designed as a heavy duty transport with a one-man crew that can land and take off vertically, the Aeroscraft is the last best bet for the airship revival of the aughts to deliver on its promise.Kelsey D. Atherton
Throwbot XT
The Throwbot is basically a remotely piloted camera on wheels that you toss like a grenade. (The manufacturers take that "like a grenade" part seriously: you pull out a pin to turn it on and everything.) On display at the expo is the Throwbot XT, which has better wheels and the ability to pick up audio. The military uses of such a machine are all some variation on placing an eyeball around a corner and an annoying rat-sized machine under the feet of hostile people. There's even a clip to attach the Throwbot XT like a bayonet, so that a gun suddenly turns into a deadly periscope. It also is comically fun to steer behind very serious and professional exposition attendees, and happens to look like an ancient Russian tank built during World War I.Kelsey D. Atherton
General Atomics Railgun
This is a railgun. General Atomics spent years working on this. It shoots projectiles at a flat trajectory up to 200 nautical miles at tremendous speed, guaranteeing a bad day for someone very far away. Displays nearby highlighted its defensive potential, especially as part of missile defense.Kelsey D. Atherton
Firedrill
The Firedrill was on of several technologies on display with an explicit emphasis on saving lives. The name is slightly misleading--it's a fire-extinguishing drill, which first drills into a room, vehicle, or ship that has an interior fire and then through holes behind the drillbit floods the room with one of four different fire suppressants. This is an old technology, but it's still cool--here's an article from 1993 about a fire in an early experimental F-22 that a firedrill put out.Kelsey D. Atherton
Sharc SV2
Benjamin, the autonomous underwater robot pictured here, has a Guinness World Record for crossing the Pacific Ocean. Starting from San Francisco in November 2011, it arrived in Australia in November 2012, and it did that without carrying any fuel. Benjamin is powered entirely by solar panels. With carefully angled underwater wings taking advantage of the passive motion of the sea, it is a slow machine, traveling at about one knot, or 3 feet every 2 seconds. Speed isn't the point--endurance is. Already proven to be more than capable of spending a year at sea, the SHARC SV2 has plenty of room to carry sensors, letting it collect all sorts of important oceanic data that would be impractical or expensive to secure by other means. That's great for scientists. What's it doing at a military expo? The sensors are neat, but it's the combination of sensors with an all-but-undetectable machine that the Navy is really interested in. Without engines or heat signatures, this machine runs quiet and it's almost invisible. All the while, it uses energy from its solar cells to collect and transmit whatever the sensors pick up.Kelsey D. Atherton
Ghost
Looking like a cross between the scrapped Sea Shadow test craft and an awesome G.I. Joe playset, the Juliet Marine Ghost is a versatile and adaptable stealth boat, that can carry troops, work as a mobile command center, go on patrol, or, most interestingly, launch missiles through large hatch opening on its roof. Right now there is one working prototype, but Juliet Marine hopes to have another this summer. Also I'm not even joking about the G.I. Joe resemblance--the company's own advertising material seems to acknowledge that. And that little side pod in the back? Totally carrying a detachable jetski.Kelsey D. Atherton
XFC
The XFC looks weird, but that's only because it's the Pringles of drones. Stored and launched from a tube, the scissor wings slide out in air, before onboard power takes over. Developed by the Office of Naval Research, the XFC uses a hydrogen fuel cell to provide power for up to six hours of flight. It is also expendable, so while it can be recovered and used again, it's not a terrible loss if it proves difficult to retrieve. Its main purpose as envisioned is reconnaissance, and the XFC has successfully streamed six hours of video before crashing.Kelsey D. Atherton
IR Revolution 360
The IR Revolution 360 was the most intriguing of the many cameras I saw on display. It continuously spins, building a complete thermal-imaging panorama. The software is especially key--the display I saw included a constructed overhead image of the immediate area the camera could see, and also split the screen into several relevant fields of vision, with the full panorama as a row along the top of the screen.Kelsey D. Atherton
RF-3081-AT001
The creatively named RF-3081-AT001 is a satellite receiver that fits in a tube. While there's a version currently in the field, this new version offers some improvements by following the Gillette model: it adds a second port to what had been a one-port system. The technology of a collapsible satellite receiver is good in and of itself, but I'm mostly interested in this one so that toy army men manufacturers can finally update the radio guy.Kelsey D. Atherton
Monitoring Oxygen Ventilation and External Suction Device
The Monitoring Oxygen Ventilation and External Suction Device (MOVES) is a life support system that can be mounted to a stretcher and has its own pump and filter that provide the wounded person with the oxygen he needs to survive. It has a monitor to track the patient's health, is powerful enough to work both immediately off the battlefield and in a hospital, and has two batteries, which means one at a time can be swapped out without interrupting the operations of the machine.Kelsey D. Atherton