Iron Man’s suit of armour is an exoskeleton which gives him superhuman strength and ballistic protection. Anyone who has seen the Iron Man films featuring Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark knows this.
US army chiefs are currently in the process of developing an ‘Iron Man-style suit’ to give soldiers capabilities that have so far remained in the domain of fiction and fantasy. Admittedly, the suit will not enable soldiers to fly at 50,000 feet, but according to MIT professor Gareth McKinley in an interview with NPR, “It sounds exactly like Iron Man.”
The blueprint for the “revolutionary” Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) includes an exoskeleton which would allow the soldier to carry heavy equipment. It would also offer them a bullet-proof exterior and an in-built computing system to monitor vital signs (such as temperature, heart rate and hydration levels). Even more astounding than this, the suit could heal wounds by temporarily stopping bleeding.
The suit would have layers of “smart” materials fitted with sensors. The sensors, for example, could provide cues to the soldier in order to reduce their risk of injury and damage to their health. An in-helmet display would also be fitted. This would overlay tactical information on the inside of the visor, similar to how Google Glass works. The exoskeleton, which can be attached to the arms and legs, would most likely use a system of hydraulics to achieve its acclaimed “superhuman strength”.
Roger Teel of the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), said that the new armour may include a strange kind of “liquid armour”, reminiscent of the Terminator films.
The liquid could turn into a solid if a magnetic or electrical charge was applied. It could therefore be turned on with a switch in order to deflect gunfire. This liquid armour would have the benefit of providing flexibility and mobility for the soldier when not under fire. However, this kind of technology, which is being researched by a team from MIT, is still in its early stages of development.
The acronym for the suit, TALOS, refers to the mythological machine made of bronze that Zeus created in order to protect his lover Europa.
The TALOS suit reflects current trends in robotic in computing, where we are seeing a closer symbiosis between man and machine. Professor McKinley has said that the next stage of this ‘man-machine interface’, in the context of its military application, “…would be the kind of external suit that Sigourney Weaver wears in Aliens, where it’s a large robot that amplifies the motions and lifting capability of a human.”
The cost of the suit is not known at this stage. But what is known is that the proposed suit will draw on a range of technical disciplines. Military experts, academic professors, government scientists and technology firms will work together on this joint project. At the 2013 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris stated that, “There is no one industry that can build it.”
A prototype should be around next year, with plans to have the suit worn by soldiers three years from now, in the year 2016.