Feeds

Bringing Iron Man to life: Exoskeletons, armour and jet packs

Power without the muscle of Banner and Captain America

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Radiation that gives you super-strength instead of disfiguring or killing you, spider bites that empower you to fight crime instead of threatening your life with a potentially fatal allergic reaction: when it comes to superheroes we need to suspend a decent amount of disbelief.

But what about Marvel's The Avengers, the United States' largest grossing film of the year, which was spun up on many a home DVD player this Christmas? Just how much does science fact surrender to science fiction when it comes to the team of Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Thor and Black Widow? Would it be possible to utilise real-life, workable technology to transform yourself into one of these characters?

It’s a six-person team, but there are only four actual superheroes in The Avengers.

We can discount Thor from the outset. No matter how hard we study, none of us are going to be born in another dimension as super-powered Norse gods.

What about The Hulk? David/Bruce Banner was the victim of an experiment gone wrong. Banner was caught by a blast of gamma radiation which somehow translated into being able to transform into a green muscular monster while under periods of extreme stress.

Gamma rays are the most energetic form of light and are produced by the hottest regions of the universe, generated by exploding stars. On Earth they can kill living cells and are used in medicine to zap cancerous growths. They would not, therefore, turn you into a green muscular monster and back again.

With Captain America all you’d need is some exotic steroids and limitless time in the gym. Oh, and you’d need a shield that was as effective in attack as it was in defence – capable of absorbing all impacts up to and including the hammer of a Norse god. But Captain America’s shield in the Marvel Universe is made of vibranium, a metal that exists only in the pages of the comic books, so that rules out Captain A.

Of all the heroes, it seems that Iron Man is most based in reality. We already have exoskeletons, armour plating, and even propulsion systems such as jet packs.

The US Army has the Human Universal Load Carrier, developed by Lockheed Martin. It’s a hydraulic unit worn by a soldier and allows them to carry loads of up to 200lb (91kg), with the load transferred to the ground via the titanium exoskeleton’s shoes. There’s also the XOS originally developed by Sarcos, the Salt Lake City firm that has since been bought by US arms mammoth Raytheon. The firm says it is now is lighter, faster, stronger and more flexible than before - and uses 50 per cent less power.

But the kit that is currently available in 2013 is nothing like you’d see Marvel's billionaire engineer Tony Stark wearing: there’s no armour plating, flexibility isn’t exactly liquid and then there’s power - HULC runs on li-ion batteries that run flat after a few hours' use. Better take some spares, soldier.

Beyond SWAT

Next, protection. The standard issue for troops, SWAT teams and general law enforcement today is Kevlar, chemically treated nylon specially woven into special patterns to make it more resistant to penetration. The tight weave makes for a cosy jacket but Kevlar is unlikely to withstand the kinds of aerodynamic pressures Stark puts his flying suit through and bullets certainly wouldn’t fly off it – it's more likely they’d just be embedded.

Then there is the armour option.

Stark's form-fitting armoured suit looks to be no more than 3mm thick, but with a density similar to iron (8g per cm3), James Kakalios estimates it would produce 26,200cm2 of coverage with a mass of around 67kg - and if you add in the weaponry and onboard computing, you'd have quite a hefty costume, something in the region of 76kg. Kakalios is a professor in the school of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota and a comic book book fan, and wrote Everything I needed To Know About Physics I Learned From Reading Comic Books and The Physics Of Superheroes.

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.