By John von Radowitz. Science Correspondent, PA News
Military chiefs are developing a new light infantry that marches with the help of solar power.
The US Army is funding the system to reduce the number of cumbersome batteries soldiers need to carry into combat.
In future, troops may wear lightweight plastic solar panels that turn sunshine into electrical power woven into their uniforms.
The invention uses a special flexible material coated with a film of power-generating particles.
It is more sensitive than conventional solar cells, and able to convert indoor artificial lighting into energy as well as sunlight.
Modern soldiers are becoming increasingly dependent on batteries to power the large amount of portable equipment they take into battle.
Typically this includes communications equipment, satellite positioning devices, and combat aids such as range finders.
Military experts are concerned both by the weight of the batteries, and the need to rely on a power source to recharge them.
If tests of the prototype solar cells prove successful, they could enter service within three years.
Reporting on the development, The Engineer magazine said: The US Army eventually hopes to use solar cells to make each soldier self-sufficient for electrical power.
Konarka, the Massachusetts-based designers, said ultimately it may be possible to incorporate ultra-thin solar cells into soldiers uniforms.
The company is also developing a wide range of civilian applications for the technology.