The "smart" or "intelligent" armor is the work of scientists and engineers at U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in Michigan, who wanted to bring a video game-style status meter to real life combat, reports Discovery News.
The armor can predict its own failure, identify the size of bullets shot at it and generate electrical power upon impact.
The technology behind the intelligence is piezoelectric, meaning it can generate a small charge when bent (or vice-versa: you can bend the material with a small charge, too).
Each plate of armor -- whether for use on the body or on a vehicle -- has two piezeoelectric sensors attached to it. Electric current flows into the sensor, which turns it into mechanical energy in the form of a tiny vibration that ripples through the armor plate.
The other sensor takes mechanical vibration and converts it to electrical energy. A "small charge" amounts to five to 15 volts of electricity.
The intelligence comes by measuring the current: if the armor has been damaged, for example, some of the current released into the armor won't be picked up on the other end.
The amount of energy lost corresponds to how damaged the armor is.
The development is a vast improvement to current inspection methods: visual inspection or ultrasound, neither particularly useful during a firefight.
In contrast, piezoelectric sensors offer real-time results. They also offer one more benefit: active defense.
Each bullet striking the armor creates a minor electrical shock wave, enough to power the sensors.
Furthermore, mathematical algorithms would discern the electrical difference between different types and sizes of ammunition rounds.
In the future, the promising technology could be applied to ships, aircraft and other commercial uses.
Interested in more? Follow TARDEC on Twitter.