Military developments have been behind some of the most important technological leaps in the history of our species - whether its space travel, the internet or nuclear energy - military necessity has often wormed its way into civilian life. However, now it seems like the US is turning to the movie industry for inspiration for their next generation of war-fighting gadgets.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Academy Award winning studio, Legacy Effects, has been tasked by the government to help create a real-life 'Iron Man suit' for the military. Officially titled the TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit), the project is drawing on expertise from across the spectrum of technological R&D, including a Canadian company which is studying how sumo-wrestlers fight, researchers looking into Medieval armor, and Ekso Bionics, who are known for designing exoskeletons which allow paraplegics to walk. Legacy Effects, who developed suits for films such as RoboCop and X-Men: Days of Future Past, has been hired to advise on the design of the body armor.
The team presented several prototypes to the military in June, but we've yet to see any photos of the actual design. Project manager lead, Brian Dowling stated:
We have projects now that are going to range from exoskeletons, to micro-climate cooling vests, to spines that support the helmet. The human body can't look too different in its form and function, but the technology you'll see will look drastically different than a soldier today.
Regardless of their final look, it seems the Iron Man suit must deliver certain abilities which are summed up in the image below:
Now, obviously the use of the term 'Iron Man' is a bit creative on the part of the military. As far as I can tell, you're not going to be able to rocket around the sky in this thing. However, there are some similarities between the design brief and the comic-book creation.
As the diagram above suggests, the Iron Man suit will provide a live heads-up display which no doubt includes features to improve tactical awareness, communication and combat effectiveness. Now, the final design probably won't include a personalized robotic butler like J.A.R.V.I.S, but this design doesn't seem a million miles away from Iron Man's helmet HUD.
One thing Medieval knights figured out rather quickly, is that encasing yourself in steel doesn't exactly make for summer attire. Future soldiers will probably experience similar problems with these Iron Man armors, and therefore some kind of cooling system will be imperative if you want your guys to keep fighting for more than five minutes.
Tony Stark also realized this issue when developing his very first Iron Man armor. After returning from Afghanistan with his Mark 0 armor in The Invincible Iron Man Volume 5, one of the first things Stark added was a sophisticated cooling system, since then it has become a central feature of almost all his suits.
The TALOS acronym might include the word 'Light', but I don't think we should read too much into that, as the system would be so heavy that the user will only be able to move it with motorized assistance. Unfortunately, this is one of the major hurdles for the project, as previous designs have been dogged with flaws concerning the exoskeleton motor kicking out of gear.
Iron Man had less of an issue with this, with power assisted moving being a central component of the first Iron Man suit. Back then he achieved it through flat linear armature DC motors which helped move the suit and also boosted the strength of the wearer by 10 times. In later editions, nano-machines create a secondary artificial musculature over Stark's body, allowing him to move the armor.
Powering the suit for long periods of time is another major issue for the TALOS project. Researchers suggest it would need 365 pounds of batteries to power the suit, which is of course, an unacceptably high amount. Furthermore, if power is required to move the suit, running out of power and/or suffering damage to the supply could render the user dead in the water.
Russ Angold, the co-founder of Esko Bionics joked, "Iron Man got it right: It's all about the arc reactor. If someone can come up with that it would be fantastic." Unfortunately, we're no closer to creating a high-yield fusion power source the size of a saucer.
Body armor for infantry is always a compromise between protection, weight and maneuverability. This means that the standard Interceptor body armor for US troops is generally only effective against smaller pistol rounds and larger calibers which have been fired at a long distance. However, the central concept behind the TALOS system is to increase this protection for soldiers operating in close quarters of the enemy.
One incident, in which a Navy SEAL was killed while storming a compound in 2012, is particularly cited as an impetus for the development. To overcome this issue, Tony Stark likely used a combination of metals, namely nitinol - an alloy of nickel and titanium - carbon-carbon composites and single-crystal titanium - an expensive, custom 'grown' piece of titanium which reduces imperfections and boosts strength.
The project only has $80 million ear-marked for its research and development which, as defense spending goes, is a tiny amount. One anonymous expert claimed:
To do it right, they need about a billion dollars. Twenty million dollars a year in an R&D budget— you couldn't even develop a pencil on that.
Furthermore, the team have to deliver an "independently operational combat suit prototype" by July 2018. And what about the paint job? Well, MacGowen stated:
This one won't be flying anytime soon. And it won't be red or gold, but it'll be something that is in the history books.
What do you think? Is this a good idea, or do you think it's a waste of time and money?
The real life Iron Man suit sounds...
Source: The Wall Street Journal