May 10, 2021 - News
How Tampa is helping develop the casualty-free future of warfare
Illustration of a pixelated toy soldier.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Sci-fi meets reality, "Stranger Things"-style, inside Tampa's University Mall. It's not the Upside Down, but just beyond the food court, the future of war technology is being designed.

Why it matters: The word "warfare" is often associated with death, but the University of South Florida's Institute of Applied Engineering is creating solutions to minimize casualties.

  • "Less-than-lethal action," is what the program's head, Robert Bishop, calls it.
  • U.S. Special Operations Command has given the institute $85 million and five years to build those solutions.

What's happening: Stopping death starts with disruption, Bishop says. Blocking an adversary's ability to operate financially, communicate or use their own technology can neutralize threats without risking the lives of American fighters and innocent people.

  • An example: Bishop is figuring out ways to shut down the technology of threatening enemy ships instead of sinking them.
  • Another of his proposals involves targeting the cell phones of people in crowds to have them disperse in dangerous situations.

What's next: As University Mall turns into Rithm at Uptown, Bishop's programs will have more space to grow.

  • And Bishop says he'll get less-than-lethal solutions in the hands of policymakers within five years.

The bottom line: These are the people flying drones with their brains. Do not underestimate them.

  • "I really think that humans are more important than things. If we can achieve our goals and not kill people, I'm happier," says Bishop.
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