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Watching just about any Iron Man movie might get you thinking how sweet it would be to have an Iron Man suit to call your very own. Well, the US military agrees, and is currently working to turn this superhero science fiction into a reality. And they are calling on Hollywood to help.
The Wall Street Journal (or The Verge for those who don't have subscriptions) reports the U.S. Military has called upon Legacy Effects, the creator of the Iron Man suits from the popular movie franchise, to help them figure out how to make exoskeleton soldier suits a warfront reality. Legacy Effects is aiding the development of these real-world weapons by designing 3D print prototypes for military use, but the VFX company isn't alone in this quest to make Iron Man's soldier suits a feasible military weapon.
Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Raytheon are getting involved, while Legacy Effects works in conjunction with Ekso Bionics, a company that specializes in exoskeleton creations. These in-development suits are being called TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit). Expected to be in the prototype phase by next year, TALOS will contain weapons, provide soldiers protection from bullets, monitor vital signs and give its user enhanced perception and strength.
To unlock the key to an exoskeleton suit that can function as well as those seen in sci-fi movies (Elysium and Edge of Tomorrow also spring to mind), engineers are studying the movement of insects and sumo wrestlers. Insects are being studied to better understand how their exoskeletons function to protect them. Sumo wrestlers are being observed to make sense of how such heavy forms can move with such agility.
One major snag of these suits is how they can be powered. The battery required will add an estimated 365 pounds to the suit. This is actually a complication that our tech expert Jim Salvia posited last year, when we asked him about the likelihood of creating the kind of exoskeleton suit used in the Matt Damon vehicle Elysium. You can read his thorough and easy-to-follow analysis here, but the battery issue comes down to:
"We would need a huge breakthrough in battery technology to be able to store and deliver the kind of power necessary to move Matt's arms and legs with enough strength and speed to justify his cyborg addition. Unfortunately, battery technology is advancing very slowly. Right now the highest density energy sources that we have are chemical fuels like gasoline. Converting those fuels into useful electrical or mechanical energy requires an engine--something usually not known for its feather-like weight (not to mention heat, noise, etc.), so it would be really inconvenient to carry around on one's back. Other options like fuel cells have their own limitations, but maybe they'll get there some day."
These complications aside, the military is hoping to have their TALOS in action by 2018, and to that end have already spent $10 million to date.
To see President Obama announcing, "We're building Iron Man," click to the next page.