Back in the olden days, the quality of a soldiers armour played a very important factor in their survival rate. As time progressed and weaponry advanced, melee combat turned to ranged combat and the use of armour was scrapped as mobility became the key to survival. It wasn't until the second half of the twentieth century that body armour became fashionable once more, however this was in part due to advances in material engineering and the use of high quality ceramics that were both light and able to withstand impact from high velocity projectiles.
The sole problem is that the armour was still restricted to mobility therefore modern armour tends to only cover the torso area, allowing for the legs and arms to function without hindrance. While there's no doubt the torso is one of the most important parts of the body to protect (second to the head) many fatalities can still occur from extremity shots or from bullets penetrating the armour from the side.
Researchers seam to have a fix for this problem and they have managed to solve it by revisiting the armour as worn by soldiers in the medieval ages. Scale armour allowed for people to move however their actions were severely limited due to the weight of the iron or steel plating and thus soldiers lucky enough to wear the suits had to be very skilled and strong. The idea is to replicate the use of scales but with modern composite ceramics, the idea being that movement limitation will be kept to a minimum.
The main inspiration for the design appears to come from the Gray Bichir (or 'Dragon Fish') a creature that has been around for close to 100 million years. Although an adept hunter, the main reason for it's survival has been largely thanks to its tough scaly exoskeleton. The fish itself has a very fluid-like motion when it moves through the water and as a result its scales have adapted to prevent any restriction in its movement. By using a similar design, the researchers hope to develop a prototype that will allow a person to be completely shielded but function as they would on a day-to-day basis.
Apparently the prototype, while completely feasible, is still some way off but they hope that it could one day replace the kevlar vests currently seeing action on the front-lines.
[via New Scientist]