Real-Life Iron Man Armor Is (Kind Of) On The Horizon
For years, people have been trying to make superhuman strength something you can wear, and now there is news of a suit of real-life Iron Man armor that seems to be one step closer to making that happen. Looking at modern fiction and world mythology, we can see a long history of wanting something external that can make us stronger than we could ever have been before.
Power Armor Through the Ages
So much of humanity’s collective fiction is dedicated to finding ways for our weak flesh prisons to become strong. Gilgamesh quests for immortality, baby Achilles gets dunked in a river, and Tony Stark uses the unbeatable combination of intelligence and a ton of money to build a suit that makes him a very strong egg with a very rich yolk.
Image Credit: Microsoft
Just a cursory look at some of our modern fiction shows this fascination has not for a moment left our shared aspirations. Fantasy has shardplate from Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, practically everything you can wear in D&D, and a whole host of other magic armors. Fallout and Warhammer 40K have power armor, and throughout the history of the Halo universe, the foundation of Master Chief’s personality is just “has super-armor; is gruff.” And who can forget movies like 1997’s Star Kid, the tale of a child and his alien robot suit.
Iron Man Armor by Any Other Name
They’re calling the suits “exo-skeletons,” and by “they,” we mean most of the countries currently developing them. Research dedicated to developing exo-skeletons is not limited, or even led, by the United States. However, the US is technically closer to Iron Man’s suit, if only because US exoskeletons have historically been made for and by the military. Other countries, particularly Japan, are using their exoskeletons as a medical resource, often to help return mobility to the elderly.
The real-life Iron Man armor that inspired recent news coverage is an exciting development by a company called SuitX, and it claims to be a tool that can help users lift, work, and move for longer than they may have been able to on their own. This has come after a long line of development, each time touting similar results and inspiring similar optimism. The difference this time appears to be in the intended purpose for this exo-skeleton: working… more.
What Real-Life Iron Man Armor Means
It turns out Ridley Scott had it right in Alien, and the exo-skeletons of the future are going to be used for turning workers into super-workers. Though far from the Power Loader, SuitX does claim their exo-skeleton will be able to “get more productivity” from workers while lowering insurance costs and losing fewer work days to injury. Whether or not that demonstrates that companies see worker injuries as a loss of profit and not a painful event in the life of their worker is left to implication.
Image via Marvel
In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark had to contend with the idea of mass production and with that, losing control of how suits inspired by his would be used. Though exo-skeleton technology seems to not have gone that far in comparison to where it was 10 years ago, the possible applications have shifted from military half-robot super soldiers to corporate super workers. In short, it’s looking like if we’re getting any kind of mass-produced exo-skeleton in the next decade, it’s probably not going to be like Iron Man’s.
If the military continues developing exo-skeletons, it will be to improve how much an individual can carry without wearing them out and probably won’t be a person-sized tank. If we see companies bringing exo-skeletons into the workforce, it seems they’ll be used to improve productivity, mitigating injury and reducing the need for fatigue-related breaks.
No word on whether or not anyone is making an exo-skeleton that can fly though.
Featured image via Marvel
h/t The BBC
Jessica Kanzler lives with her wife and cats and enjoys obsessively reading fantasy and talking about writing with anyone who won't run away. Jessica has an MA in Rhetoric, Writing, and Digital Media studies, and one of her students once said she “wasn’t cool, but was clearly trying.”