Edgelings

Silicon Valley's OTHER Cool New Car

SILICON VALLEY’S OTHER COOL CAR by Scott Budman

The new electric Tesla roadster may have captured the fancy of the privileged classes, but when you’re worried about explosive mines in the highway, the new hottest new pin-up wheels belong to The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle.

The M-RAP, is the kind of vehicle Arnold Schwarzenegger would be drooling over, if he wasn’t California’s Governor, and had to worry about his carbon footprint. The M-RAP (which, for my money, also gets a really cool name) moves quickly, is good around the pylons, and just flat-out looks like it could destroy a whole town, then cruise in style back to the Bat Cave.

But here’s the kicker: The M-RAP is all about safety, and protection. The latest military vehicle to come out of BAE Systems, M-RAP has one goal in mind: Ten soldiers go into battle inside it .. and ten soldiers come out safe. That’s it. That’s its purpose.

Which makes a trip to BAE’s Santa Clara offices all the more enlightening. Tucked into an industrial park, BAE’s offices do not, under any circumstances, scream new tech. No big glass windows, no cool shiny signage. This is a concrete building that wasn’t even hip when Hewlett and Packard were putting up their first office buildings. But inside? A mix of technology and military that gives anyone, hawk or dove, a peek into the future of our armed forces.

For one thing, it’s all on computer. The M-RAP, step by step, in all its CAD-CAM glory. It’s a way to save time and money, while letting the techies get feedback from the Generals, every step of the way. Talk about a way to bring two worlds together: Everyone gets a say this way; the military likes the input, the techies like the way their work can be appreciated by those who need it most. As someone who grew up on military bases, only to end up covering the tech beat, this office makes the world seem like a smaller place.

Then there’s the 3-D immersive testing dome. Step in, put on the glasses, and you’re literally inside the vehicle, as it drives through the Afghan desert. Lots of military personnel have been in here, to test it out before it hits the field of battle. The result? A machine that, in the words of BAE’s Greg Mole (on the techie side), “is lighter, faster, more agile, but with the same level of protection.”

All around BAE’s nondescript office, people speak of the pride they take in helping our men and women in the field. Talk about a mission statement: this one is about saving lives, every day. They take pride, too, in the door signed by a soldier, after an ambush where, thanks to the vehicle, everyone survived the shooting. As Mole says, “there is no more noble endeavor that what we’re doing here .. developing these systems that protect our troops.”

And that’s not a bad job description.

[For more Scott Budman stories, visit www.nbcbayarea.com]