"THE SUN HIT LOW, AND CAST A FEARSOME BLAZING GLEAM UPON THE ARMOR OF MY ENEMY, AND I WITNESSED THE BLOOD OF MY FRIENDS SPLATTERED CROSS THE IRON PLATES. THERE WAS NOT FLESH OF MAN EXPOSED IN THE ARMOR OF MY FOE, WHO STOOD ALONE IN THE FIELD OF FALLEN WARRIORS. AS I DREW MY SWORD, AND PLACED MY HELMET UPON MY CROWN, I RUSHED TO DECORATE MY ARMOR WITH HIS RED ESSENCE."
Armor of all types and materials has being worn in combat since nearly the dawn of organized warfare. From the Romans, to the Greeks, to the armies of Alexander of the Great, all the way to the Knights of Europe and the Samurai, all of these warriors donned armor of various designs. That changed when the gun gained dominance over the sword in the 17th/18th centuries, and armored plates could not be forge thick enough to counter the bullet. Today, our soldiers are protected from the trauma of the bullet by ceramic plates and tight woven fibers. While effective, it only protects a small portion of the soldiers' body. Science fiction has imagined that future soldiers will be protected from the horrors of future weapons via full-body armor that also increases the soldier's endurance and strength. This idea, transformed into one of the most iconic elements of battlefield technology in military science fiction, the powered armor suit, allowing one soldier to become many. After the idea of the this futuristic armor was established by E.E. Doc Smith and Robert Heinlein, Japanese Anime/Manga along with American video games/comic books would jump on the concept and expanding it that continues to this day. In my own life, the powered armor seems to have always been there, and became a key element in my first MSF novel Endangered Species. The concept that was laid down in the 1930's, is still going strong with the current release of Elysium that features powered exo-armor.
BTW, I think there is a rather good drinking game buried in the text here. Drink every time you read the words: Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein. or E.E. Doc Smith.
WHAT IS "POWERED ARMOR"?
What separates the powered combat exoskeletons of science fiction from the classic protective suits of the Knights of Europe and the Samurai? Armored power suits preform the same primary function as that ancient armor: protection. However, with the use of electricity to unitize micro-motors, computers, advanced material science forge one armored soldier into many, empowering the basic foot soldier into a machine of battle. Not only is the wearer better protected from incoming fire, but, powered armor uses micro-motors, hydraulics, artificial muscle tissue, and computerized controls to amplify strength, jumping (even flight in some cases),endurance, vision via sensors of the operator along with informational systems, and onboard communications. As to form, the majority of powered armor is similar to bipedal anatomy to allow for logical/intuitive operation for the wearer. While combat is the most logical function of armored power suits, they could be used for space exploration, hospitals, construction, cargo hauling on the USS Sulaco, and rescue services.
Since powered armor is extremely popular in science fiction, and every author/creator (included
me) wants to differentiate their idea of powered armor from other works contain these super-suits, they conjure up other terms. In order to more clear, the blogpost will generally refer to either powered armor or armored power suit (APS). Here is a list of other terms used in science fiction:
* Powered Exoskeleton
* Man Amplifier
* Space Armor (early term)
* Amplifier Exoskeleton
* Battle Armor
* Power Suits
* Armored Power Suit (APS)
* Powered Armor
* Combat Exo-Skeleton
* Nano-Muscle Suit
* Hazard Suit
* Resource Integration Gear
* Personal Tank
* Exoskeleton Armor
* Hazard Enviormental Suit (HEV)
* Power Armor
* Powered Armor Suit
* Jacket (from All You Need Is Kill)
* Armored Fighting Suit
* Combat Skin
* Skin Suit
* Enhanced Combat suits
* heavy powered combat armor (from Strings on a Shadow Puppet)
* Accelerator Suit
* Heavy Metal Warrior
* Man Amplifier
THE CLASSIFICATIONS AND SIZE OF POWERED ARMOR
Given the popularity of powered armor these days across all types of media, there are thousands of examples. From my years of research (i.e., being a geek), I have divided up the various forms of Powered Armor into three types: CLASS I/II/III. All of these fit within the umbra that is powered armor. Note, that there is a division between mecha and powered armor. I think of mecha has more akin to the robotic vehicles seen in Battletech, Gundum, and ROBOTECH. These are more like walking tanks that are operated accordingly, with controls similar to a tank or combat aircraft. Powered armor is more personal and intimate, and mostly controlled via the natural appendages of the operator's body. Think of the AMP suit from AVATAR, where the pilot used their legs to move the suit, and their own hands and arms to manipulate the arms and hands of the AMP suit. Size also is a factor in breaking up the three classes of powered armor, separating them from mecha. Most armored power suits are close to size to an average human, while mecha is of the giant robot category. Some fictional military organizations make use of all types of powered armor along with mecha. This can been seen in the Imperium of Man from WH40K. They field normal infantry (the Imperial Guard), CLASS-1 APS (the Space Marines), CLASS-2 APS (Tactical Dreadnought Terminator Armor), CLASS-3 (Dreadnoughts), and mecha (Titans).So, here is the full descriptions and examples of the three classifications of powered armor.
The CLASS-1 powered armor is the wearable version and more closely related in a spiritual sense to the historical armor of the Knights of Europe and the Samurai. Unlike the other two classes of APS, CLASS-1 is more intimate and the normal biological inputs from the wearer's extremities dictate the actions of the armor. This type of powered armor allows for amplification of the operator's strength, survivability, endurance over conventional infantry. These can be completely enclosed, like Iron Man or more of a framework, like in Elysium. Given that this classification of battlesuit is based on the normal range of the operators, the size of the suit can be variable as well. With genetically modified super-soldiers of Warhammer 40K and Battletech, the size of suit increased with then increased size of the operator, making them closer to CLASS-2 in size rather than the typical CLASS-1. When comparing this type of more intimate future combat armor to an automobile, the little two-seater "roadster" type vehicles like the epic Mazda Miata, the Mini Cooper S, the old MG roadsters, and the holy Porsche 550 racer from the 1950's come to mind.
* The Chozo Power Suit from the Metroid universe
* The Element APS from Battletech
* The Mjolnir armor from HALO
* Iron Man...'nuff said
* The Accelerator Suits from G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA
* The Powered Armor from the Starship Trooper universe
* The powered armor from Armor
* Forever War fighting suits
* The Terran Marines from Starcraft
* The Exo-Suits from Elysium
* The Marine armor from Warhammer 40K
* The hardsuits from Bubble Crisis 2032
* The marine fighting combat space suits of the Shrapnel comics
* Power Armor from the Fallout series
* Bio-Booster Armorfrom Bio Booster Armor Guyver
* Skin-Suits from Fallen Dragon by Peter F. Hamiliton
* The XENON Project from Xenon: the Heavy Metal Warrior
* Nano-Suit from Crysis video game series
* The NAVSPECWAR S.W.O.R.D. armored suits from the anime OVA Vexille
* The fighting suit or "Jackets"from the book and film All You Need is Kill
Sandwiched between the body-hugging CLASS-1 and the mecha-sized CLASS-3, is the "little big man" of the powered armor world, the CLASS-2. This bridges the world of the mecha and the world of the traditional Iron Man type battlesuit, and as benefits of both. Typically, the CLASS-2 has more of a cockpit design, but still has the operator's extremity inputs to dictate to the suit's actions. With the increase of the suit, there is greater amplification, larger power supply, and complexity. Several CLASS-2 suits have been seen in big budget live-action films, like AVATAR, two of the Matrix films, ALIENS, and Distinct 9. When comparing the CLASS-2 armor to an automobile type than compact four-door sedans vehicles like the BMW 3-series, Toyota Corolla, the Volkswagen Jetta or even the compact SUVs.
* The AMP suit from Avatar
* The APU from Martix Reloaded and Revolutions
* The Tactical Dreadnought Armor from Warhammer 40K
* The Marader armor from Starship Troopers 3
* The Fujiacomo Ghost in the Shell Manga
* The Tachikoma from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
* The Prawn Powered Armor from Distict 9
* The Power-Loader from ALIENS
* The Iron Monger from Iron Man (2008)
One of the most rare types of powered armor seen science fiction is the CLASS-3. While it is similar to the biped mecha that litter Anime and Manga, the CLASS-3 differs in the manner of control, not size. Most giant robot combat vehicles, like in Gundum are just that, vehicles. These are piloted by use of complex controls (think Steel Battalion for the Xbox), and there is a disconnect between man and machine. The CLASS-3 powered armor is about the same scale as those walking tanks, but is controlled via the actions and impulses of the pilot muscles and brain. This allow for the CLASS-3 powered armor to be faster and more responsive than the classic mecha. One of the best examples is the Biorodis from the ROBOTECH: the Masters. If I was to compare the CLASS-3 APS to an automobile that I would chose the current trend of the four-door "coupes". These sleek cars that are both roomy, but responsive and feel more like a sports car than a saloon car. Some examples are like the sexy-as-fuck Porsche Panamera Turbo, the Fisker Karma, the Maserati Quattroporte GTS, the new BMW M6 Gran Coupe, and the Aston Martin Rapide S.
* The Jagers from Pacific Rim
* The Masters' Bioroids from ROBOTECH
* The Invid Warriors from ROBOTECH
* The Mecha from Brain Powered
* The EVA Mecha from Neon Genesis Evangelion
* The Tracer mecha from Voices from a Distant Star
* The Gunbuster mech from Gunbuster
* The Imperial Dreadnought from Warhammer 40k
NEGATIVES OF POWERED ARMOR
* Additional Complexity
* Greater In-field Repair/Maintenance
* Increased Training
* Terrain hazards
* Higher Cost
* Increased Fuel/Energy Needs
* Greater infrastructure Needs
* Target for the Enemy
* "God-Mode" behavior
POSITIVES OF POWERED ARMOR
* Increased Firepower capability
* Increased survivability for the Soldier
* Increased endurance
* Increased strenght
* All weather capability
* Less soldiers needed for operations
* Less heavy support needed
* Elimination of bulky machines
* NBC/Hostile Environmental Protection
* Can go where tanks cannot
* Psychological effect
* Defensive systems
THE HISTORY OF POWERED ARMOR IN SCIENCE FICTION
Tales told around camp fires about magical armor that grants the wearer greater fighting abilities since ancient times. Take the armor of Achilles fashioned by the God of Blacksmithing, Hephaestus for example along the armor of Beowulf are such examples. This desire seems intrinsic to human behavior as it continues to this very day with works like Iron Man and HALO. These mythical armor pieces allowed the warrior to amplify their strength and bravery on the battlefield, forging legends, and it is possible via technology that this desire could come to fruition.
This idea of power-driven armored suits was a nature fit for science fiction, and was first explored in the 1930's by science fiction visionary and pioneer E.E. Doc Smith. It is likely that 1937's Galactic Patrol is the first use of space powered armor. Throughout his founding space opera stories of the brave Lensman, these intergalactic warriors that use physic powers also walked around in some type of powered armor. In the text of the novels, the powered armor is often called "light space armor" composed of "dureum". This allowed Kimball Kinnison in 1947's Children of the Lens, to survive massive amounts of incoming enemy fire, and this space armor could not be worn by a normal man.
While the space armor of the Lensman series was not strictly "powered armor" by more modern examples, but given the material it was composed of, it is a given along with abilities mentioned. With the widespread popularity of the E.E. Doc Smith novels, futuristic full-body combat armor entered the imaginations of the readers. Another early tale of powered armor comes for the more pulp-side of sci-fi: The Spider and Satan's Murder Machines published in December 1939. This featured an evil gang that dons "robotic armor", and the hero of these pulp novels was "the Spider", a playboy millionaire that reminds me of Lamont Cranston from The Shadow and Batman's Bruce Wayne, uses his own robot suit to fight the evildoers. Just before FWS published this blogpost, long-time reader Christopher Phoenix, mentioned that James Blish Cities in Flight novels from the 1950's featured the use of police power-driven space armor. From my research, the space armor appeared in these novels as early as 1957!
While the first example of powered armor could be debated, the appearance that defined and codified the theory of powered suits was Robert Heinlein's 1959 military science fiction story Starship Troopers. This novel has since become the touchstone for military science fiction and powered armor. With this type of popularity, including winning a best novel Hugo award in 1960, Starship Troopers influenced generations of creators to imagine their own version of the Mobile Infantry power suits. Some believe that the M.I. armor influenced the development of the Japanese Anime/Manga staple of Mecha. This appearance of fictional powered armor that could seal a soldier away from alien environments was also being explored by Constantin Paul Lent in his 1956 design for a hardshell spacesuit that was patented, but never led to anything.
Shortly after the Mobile Infantry bughunts came two iconic comic book characters that were born very much moral, but used their minds and technology to forge their place in the world of superheroes: Doctor Doom and Iron Man. It may come as a surprise that the first Marvel Comics character to don powered armor was not Tony Stark in 1963, but Victor Von Doom in Fantastic Four #5 in July of 1962. Iron Man's first appearance was in Tales of Suspense #39 in March of 1963. Doctor Doom was developed by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a "super villain" who took his image from the common Western ideals about the personifications of the Grim Reaper and Death, along with the inhuman, unmerciful, nature of steel body armor. Just a year later, Stan Lee, Larry Liber, and others at Marvel would create another character wrapped in armor...this time it was a moral man hero (of sorts) that used his superior intelligence to foil his Vietnamese captors by created the first Iron Man suit. As Stan Lee tells it, in the early 1960's, the young readers of comics hated war, and Stan Lee gave them a genius weapons marker in Tony Stark patterned some what on Howard Hughes. This two characters, one good, one evil, showing us the uses and origins of powered armor, along with the effect of using this armor. Despite their development in the 1960's, both Iron Man and Doctor Doom are still active in the world of comics, and have expanded into the world of film. These two characters are in some ways the yin and yang of powered armor.With Iron Man and Doctor Doom popularity coupled with an society-wide interested in science did was create conditions for the rise of creators using powered armor in their works.
In 1967, a powered exoskeleton based on the Cornell Man Amplifier and the GE Hardiman was seen in the spy comedy film The Ambushers. While the movie was a throwaway attempting to cash in on the James Bond crazy, it did feature powered exoskeletons that were designed for lifting work, not combat. This realistic and non-combat role for powered exoskeletons was also seen in the 1968 yellow exoskeleton toy from the Major Matt Mason toyline by Mattel. The "supernaut power-limbs" toy was packaged with the concept of it being used by the astronauts to explore outer space while helping with their work with the "space stilts". Another similar toy for the Major Matt Mason toyline was released in 1969, called the "space power suit pak". This featured a remote control non-electric squeezable system to allow the child to use the "power hammer" and "power claw". Once again this was aimed at space exploration and not space-based warfare.
Between 1971-1973, the Marvel comics would featured several power armor wearing characters. In 1971, we witness the emergence of the "Mandroid" designed by Stark Industries for use by S.H.I.E.L.D and the"Soviet Super Troopers" outfitted in weaponized mechanical suits that would combat the Hulk.This would established a trend of the Incredible Hulk facing off with powered armor foes. Military science fiction would see another founding classic be published in 1974 with Joe Haldman's The Forever War. When human first encounters hostile aliens, the United Nations begins training soldiers with IQ's over 150 for the Expeditionary Force that will engage the Tauran forces far from Terra via use of Collapsars. Soldiers like Potter and Mandella are issued "fighting suits" and chemical lasers to combat their evil alien foe. These fighting suits were a hybrid of the combat spacesuit and the powered armor. Again, like Starship Troopers, the Forever War would become a highly successful sci-fi novels, winning the major awards for science fiction literature and further solidify the concept of powered armor within future warfare tales.
Occurring at around the same time as the publishing of The Forever War, was the emergence of military sci-fi wargames in the mid-1970's. Games like Starguard! Interstellar Infantry-2550 AD, SPI's StarSoldier: Tactical Warfare in the 25th Century, and Avalon Hill's Starship Troopers all featured soldiers in powered armor waging war on exoplanets. This was an important step in introducing fresh legions to the concept of powered armor in use in military sci-fi. While the Americans were exploring the concept of powered armor via comics, books, and wargames, the Japanese were noticably quiet. That would change in 1979 with the coming of Mobile Suit Gundam and the introduction of futuristic military mecha to the world of manga and anime.
This concept would catch fire like a tossed cigarette in a dry national park. Mecha of all shapes and sizes would populate anime and manga, and be global exported to hungry little viewers like myself in the dawn of the 1980's. While Mecha is a board definition for advance robotic machines, powered armor often gets lumped into the mix, and with the success of Mobile Suit Gundam, came powered armor into manga and anime. With works like Genesis Climber MOSPEADA with their cyclones, the Zentradi power suits from Super Dimension Fortress Macross, and various powered armor war-machine in Ma.K ZBV3000 and Armored Trooper VOTOMS. This storm of Anime and Magna works featuring powered armor would also be supported by a strong wargame culture in North America with games like OGR E/GEV, Traveller, Armored Assault, Dragonstar Rising that were all supported with the explosion of comic/hobby stores.
I can still remember going into my favorite comic stores in Tulsa, and witnessing walls of futuristic war-machine models and boxed games that I couldn't afford. Behind closed doors in these comic/hobby stores where early tabletop war simulations were being waged. In December 1984, another classic of military science fiction was released and built on the trend of powered armored soldier combating sentient insect aliens on other planets. Written by fellow Texan John Steakley, who I actually met at a sci-fi convention in 2004, Aromor was a direct response to Heinlein's 1959 classic. Steakley stated that Armor was born out of lack of combat in the novel, and more focused on the struggle of soldiers in inhuman combat. This would be another founding literary classic of military science fiction. Sadly, a sequel was in the works when Mr. Steakley passed away recently.
1986-1987 would prove to be a pivotal years in powered armor history. 1986 would see James Cameron's magnum opus ALIENS displaying a rare live-action example of powered armor in the powerloader created one of the best ambassadors for inclusion of powered exoskeletons into future science fiction works. In 1987, the harbinger of powered armor being a staple of video games arrive with Samus Aran in 1987's Metroid. The genre of wargaming would be forever altered by the creation of Games Workshops Warhammer 40,000 also in 1987. This one work would spawn generations of fans and admirers, who would use Warhammer 40K has inspirational for their own powered armor. While Starship Troopers may have spread the gospel of powered armor in military sci-fi, Warhammer 40k invaded the world of science fiction and converted millions to the cause at the barrel of a boltgun. Powered armor in science fiction would be radically different if Games Workshops had never developed 40K. It was also during 1987, that one of my favorite anime series, Bubblegum Crisis was released, and proudly displayed female combatants in their powered hardsuits.
It was also during these banner years, that First Comics would publish
Dynamo Joe, an American far-future war story featuring all sizes of mecha and powered armor influenced by Anime and Manga. This was the series that introduced me to the term "armored power suit" in issue number seven. From 1988 to 1990, powered armored in science fiction would see a boost with the Japanese OVA based on Starship Troopers released in 1988 along with models of their interruption of the power suit. This was coupled with Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01 andthe OVA of Masamune Shirow's Appleseed manga series that had been exploring the urban warfare aspect of powered armor since 1986.
Another ambassador product of powered armor was 40k universe. This was just another delivery method for Games Workshop to pedal their war-crack to young minds, hooking them for life to the nipple of GWS, and it was a might cool game that I saw many times around the comic shop, and played a few times.
the simplified boardgame from 1989 that pitted Space Marine Terminators against monstrous Genestealers set in the
By the dawn of the 1990's, the power of home video game consoles and PCs, allowing for powered armor to be featured in mainstream games. The iconic powerhouse of mecha combat games, Battletech, forged their own battlesuit, the Elementals with the 1990 Technical Readout: 3050. This allowed for powered armor to be used in one of the largest wargaming products, and was later filtered down into future Battletech products. The early 1990's would see video games carry the mantel of Metroid and run with: Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels,X-COM, Crusader: No Remorse, Dune: II, many, many others. Powered armor of the later 1990's could be best exemplified by Tribes, Starcraft, Half-Life, and Fallout. Powered armor was not limited to video games, but also was seen in western animation. The American animated TV series of Battletech, Exo-Squad, and Roughnecks: Starship Troopers would all featured powered armor on-screen and in spin-off toys.
The 1990's would demonstrate the move away from physical wargames that used the imagination and miniatures for the interconnected video games that allowed the player to rise legions of powered armor warriors to punish their enemies with, and this trend continued in the millennium with the explosion in computer generated special effects and personal electronics. Microsoft, who nearly dominated the personal computer market, decided to claw out a marketplace for their new home gaming system, the Xbox, in 2001. What sold most of us to buy the expensive big black box was one game, and one game only: HALO: Combat Evolved. For over a decade, Master Chief, SPARTAN-117 would found a gaming empire that expanded into books, TV shows, and toys, all worth $3 billion dollars. The Chief's powered armor would an icon of all powered armor, and stands as one of the key designs. Literary examples of powered armor would be seen in 2000's Revelation Space, the scores of HALO and Warhammer 40k books, along with some of Tanya Huff's books. In 2007, one of the prime examples of nanotechnology based powered suits would released in Crysis.
Computer technology would not only allow for the Master Chief to storm ancient ring shaped worlds, but also for mainstream science fiction films to (finally) include powered armor that did not look like something out of Ray Harryhausen fever dream. 2003 would see the APU combat exo-skeletons in the third Matrix film, one of the finest examples of powered armor in live-action cinema at that time. However, the level was raised with the live-action Iron Man movie in 2008 and the sequels that followed, along with the AMP suits from James Cameron's AVATAR in 2009. This over-sized combat armor that walked the line between mech-suit and powered armor, but appeared all business when the action started. 2009 was also the year that Neil Blomkamp give use the Prawn powered armor in the jarring District 9 and the accelerator armor suits from the first live-action G.I. Joe movie. With Pacific Rim and Elysium both released in 2013 and Edge of Tomorrow in 2014, the trend of powered armor equipped warriors appears to be not slowing down. Books featuring powered armor are alos not slowing down, in 2013, Baen Books would publish an entire anthology of stories devoted to powered armor called Armored. On the horizon for live-action cinema powered armor is the reboot of Starship Troopers, more Iron Man films, a possible HALO movie, and the long-delayed the Forever War. Gaming will continue using powered armor with the upcoming HALO 5 and Destiny. As of the writing of this blogpost in August of 2013, there seems to be no slowing down of the trend of including powered armor in all medium of science fiction.
REAL-WORLD POWERED ARMOR
Before science fiction showed us vision of super-troopers dosing out atomic grenades at bug-aliens on other planets, the idea of machines making man's work easier via enhancing the worker's body have been around since 1890 and continue onward through today. The majority of real-world powered exoskeleton were not designed specifically for combat applications, but more for having the strength of a Wookie. Mostly, powered exoskeleton are being explored to replace forklifts via slave and master system, and to take the load off soldiers, not dual-wield light machine guns and jumping over tall buildings. Here is a list of some of the examples of real-world powered armor suits.
General Electric in the mid-1960's, with funding for the US military, designed a suit of powered exoskeleton that could lift 1500lbs and be used primarily onboard aircraft carriers to load ordnance on fighters.However,the Hardiman suit weighted in at 1500lbs with 28 joints, and there were issues with the power supply, but it did work as promised. What prevented the Hardiman to become standard naval equipment was the dangerous habit of the joints to become unstable and behave with a mind of their own to the degree that it threatened the wearer. Much of the photos with an operator inside where done with the power off. GE explored the possibility of a system that just unitized the arms of the Hardiman but that ended in 1971.
AX-5 Hard-Shell Spacesuit (1988)
In the mid-1980's, the AMES research center beginning work on space suit that would have a metal shell with mobility joints instead of the standard fabric "soft suit" used today. The AX-5 prototypes achieved a flexibility rating of 95%, Why was the AX-5 never on an EVA? One reason was weight, soft suits weight less than hard suits. Hard suits are unappealing visual when compared to the soft suit...which mattered to the NASA PR department, and those joints could lock up in EVA. I can remember NASA fooling around with this concept, and it was believed that the hard suit would be more rigidized for Martian exploration.
Cornell Man Amplifier (1961)
In the early 1960's, Cornell Aeronautical labs in Buffalo, New York worked on the theory and development of a man amplifier exoskeleton...all prior to Iron Man. The idea was to use bilateral force feedback with force reflection using machine joints (slave) laid upon biological joints (master) to boost the strenght of the wear. It was believed that this suit could take the place of bulky lifting machines and allow the handicapped to walk. The Cornell exoskeleton only got to the mock-up stage and electric joint motors were never applied. However, the research done by Cornell labs for the Man Amplifier exoskeleton did led to the GE Hardiman suit.
In 1986, Army Ranger Monty Reed suffered a broken back during a parachute accident. During his recovery, he read Starship Troopers, and turned his energies to developing a powered exoskeleton. By 2001, Monty had developed the first generation of pneumatically powered LIFESUIT, and the system is in its fourteenth generation. He also established a foundation called They Shall Walk by selling his own ranch to start the work of using the LIFESUIT, now called the RehabSuit to help physically disabled walk. Monty Reed is developing powered exoskeletons for the right reasons, and should be celebrated for bring hope.
NASA X1 Load-Bearing Exo-Suit (2012)
While researching this NASA exoskeleton, I came across a new term: robonaut. It seems that the X1 load-bearing exo-suit being developed by NASA and other companies will be applied to manned and unmanned space missions. This 57 pound suit could be used to prevent muscle loss among astronauts during long duration space mission. Another application of the technology for fleshy space explorers could be off-loading of cargo during expeditions of Mars and other worlds with more normal gravital fields and could recycle via solar panels. This would decrease the need for bulky machines and lessen the risk of injury to the astronaut millions of miles from home. For the robotic space explorers, the X1 could be an telepresence interface for a biped space probe.
Power Assist Suit (1990)
One of the primary real-world applications of powered exoskeletons would be to increase the operator's strength to super-human levels, and allow for lifting to be done in a egomaniac manner. Since 1990, several Japanese firms and universities have experimented with this type of powered exoskeleton, including motorbike manufacture Kawasaki. All seem to aimed at the same market, lifting and possible medical applications, especially important in Japan with an aging population.
H.A.L Suit (2002)
This is yet another Japanese powered exoskeleton called HAL or Hybrid Assertive Limb, that also developed not for war but for lifting and walking, along with looking a bit like suit out of TRON. HAL, now in its fifth generation is built by Cyberdyne of Japan was original developed for medical applications, and in March of 2013, HAL suits were under tests in ten Japanese hospitals. The HAL could be the future of powered armor in everyday life, being a medical device allowing the lifting of heavy patients, physical therapy, and warehouse work. Cyberdyne envisions the HAL suit becoming similar to the bulk of hospital equipment, rented, at a rate of a few thousand dollars a month.
The BLEEX or the Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton System was developed by Berekeley University (surprise!) and DARPA for military applications beginning in the year 2000. BLEEX was only mounted to the legs of the soldier to prevent overtaxing of the soldier while hiking over rough terrain while carrying heavy loads. In 2004, a working prototype was tested fitted to a small motor that made the BLEEX as stealthy as a lawnmower. The cost? About $50 million dollars, and the project seems to have ended and the research rolled into another DARPA exoskeleton project.
The US Army and DARPA has two powered exoskeletons under development. One being the HULC and the other is the XOS. Raytheon with Sarcos has been working on a full-body powered exoskeleton since 2007. XOS grew out of various other DARPA exoskeleton projects, and Sarcos design was chosen by DARPA for continued development for a cost of $15 million dollars. The primary goals of the XOS exoskeleton was to increase the operator's strength, endurance, and could preform the lifting tasks of up to three soldiers and even some bulky machines. At present, the second generation of XOS powered exoskeletons is under testing with a small motor to provide the power requirement. In order for the XOS system to be fielded, the reliance on a internal combustion motor would have to eliminated in favor of a fuel cell.
The Human Universal Load Carrier was developed by Dr. Kazerooni and a team at Ekso Bionics beginning in 2000 and the idea of the HULC was later sold to Lockheed Martin in 2009. Dr. Kazerooni had previously been involved with the BLEEX exoskeleton, and worked to develop a lower-extremity support system that would allow a soldier to carry 200lbs of gear without fatigue for eight hours of operation. Lockheed Martin is currently working on a lighter version for US Army testing. The primary purpose of the HULC is not super-soldier aero-kicks of death, but to allow the soldier to not experience the loss of combat effectiveness via the carrying of 130lbs of combat gear. In order to allow the HULC deployment on longer missions, Lockheed is testing a fuell cell power supply that would allow for 96 hours of operational life.
DARPA Warrior Web (2012)
DARPA 's Warrior Web project is to enhance the soldier via a soft, flexible, but rugged undergarment that would lighting the load of soldier in combat. This works by supporting the soft tissue of the knees, ankles, and hips, reducing the likelihood of an injury. Augmentation of the soldier's muscles is also in the wishlist as well as the detection of injuries. DARPA is also addressing one of the key issues of powered exoskeleton, power supply. According to DARPA, the Warrior Web would run off a 100 watt power sources.
THE REALITIES OF POWERED ARMOR IN COMBAT
What would be the reality of fielding powered armor soldiers in combat? Science fiction often rises the armored power suit to the level of the ultimate badass future weapon system. But the truth is that any system can be destroyed or countered. Powered armor would be a nice juicy target, and given their presumed combat abilities, a likely primary target for the enemy. Powered armor could easily be destroyed with a direct air-strike or direct hit by a tank's main gun. Also, with the layout of powered armor being anatomical similar to the human body, and that there is a flesh-and-blood operator inside the spam can would present a interesting target dynamic.
This would make the head section a focal point for anti-suit sniper units armed with special anti-material rifles (like the COBRA assault cannon from Robocop). The weakness of the helmet area would be increase if there was a visor, and could be a target for any sniper or blue-skinned huntress with a bow and arrow. Frankly, it would be a terrifying thought that an Gauss rifle could be aimed at my helmet at anytime on a battlefield! Along with the head would be the knee joints. Much like the head, the knees could not be armored enough to be as protective as the chest portion and still do their job. If I was a suit sniper in the future, I would aim for the fucking knees. One good clean shot with a state-of-the-art bang-bang rail gun or Gauss cannon KEW, and that knee would be gone, and the suit is immobile.
Beside enemy's using anti-tank cannons on you, powered armor would also be faced with the realities of terrain and energy. Terrain on this planet has defined the types of combat resources that can be brought to bear, and powered armored would be also limited by terrain on this world and others. Take the current combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq would be a better environment for powered armor deployment considering the types of terrain and urban combat zones, along with proximity to friendly resources. Sand could pose an issue, but not like the unforgiving terrain of Afghanistan or even Vietnam. Rough, uneven terrain could pose threats from unstable ground, resulting in falls or damage.
At the very least, these types of terrain could drain power supplies rapidly, causing the need for resupply. These issues only multiply when you consider dense jungles, like those seen in Vietnam or Pandora, or completely unsettled worlds like Mars. The more hostile the conditions, the more power would be needed to support the operator, even if that means air conditioning while patrolling the deep deserts of Arrakis. Of course, that is one of the great elements of powered armor, sealed environment, even if it eats up power. Your soldiers could march across the arctic would risk of their fingers and toes falling off, and the extreme toll that these types of environmental conditions reap on the unarmored body. In some ways, while weather conditions are always important for combat, powered armor negates some of these. Your soldiers in battlesuits could nice and dry during a rainstorm, cool and comfortable in the middle of the desert, and toasty warm in the deep cold of a Martian desert.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECT OF POWERED ARMOR
At the Battle of Hydaspes River in 326 BC, the forces of Alexander the Great first witnessed the war elephants, and refused to combat the beasts. The Samurai warrior designed their mempo (facemask) and Kabuto (helmet) to strike fear in the hearts of their enemies. There have many reports of the psychological effects of the AC-130 are having on the Taliban. Could powered armor hold the same psychological effect? I think that depends on how common the armor is in the future, and how effective it is in combat. After all, the tanks of World War One were believed to hold psychological effect on the enemy troops, but after the initial shock, most troopers witness their ineffectiveness. Tanks hold more psychological effect post-WWII given their greater effectiveness. Any enemy that had never been exposed to powered armor, would suffer from fear and possibly flee from the assaulting armor. But that would not last, much like Alexander's soldiers fighting against the war elephants. If powered armor were highly effective in combat situations, then the fear level for soldiers be higher, however, if the armor could be stopped with RPGs, special cannons, shock-charges, or even EMP grenades, than they would be more of an annoyance than some unstoppable juggernaut to piss your panties over.
Psychological effects work both ways. The operators of powered armor could suffer from a "god-mode" mentality, especially if they came from combat infantry. Consider this, if an infantryman joins the armor corps after service their time in the shit, than their POV on combat would be altered by the donning of the suit. When these operators were in the infantry with their ass-in-the-grass, a near miss by an RPG or one direct hit by an assault rifle round could result in a trip to a field hospital or worse. In the armor, most rifle rounds would be ineffective (at first), and the entire operator to (mostly) ignore the light incoming fire. This could cause a false sense of security for the suit, and could led to trouble. Soldiers will have to be trained to be mindful of the "god mode" effect and the limitations of the armor in combat. After all, no machine is without a weakness, and if it bleeds we can kill it.
COULD YOU FLY WITH POWERED ARMOR?
Simply put, no. You could pull the Buzz Lightyear "falling with style" move with aid of a glider apparatus. In Starship troopers, the M.I. in their powered armor used short hop-jumps with limited jump-jet capability, but full-on flight like we witnessed in Iron Man using plasma-based rockets (MPD) mounted in your boots is not possible. Even these short hops with jump-jets would be difficult, especially considering CLASS II/III types of powered armor. The reason for doubt lays with weight and fuel supply. With the advancements continues as well as interest in jet-packs, we could see the use of these devices in urban warfare and rapid assault situations in the coming years.
With MILSPEC jet-packs, we could the emergence of specially trained, tactical assault, but lightly armored flight system allowing for limited flight with heavy amounts of training. These troopers would use maneuverability instead ofballistic protection. However, true-blue CLASS-1 powered armor would not behave like Tony Shark's creation or the jump packs of the Space Marines. One of the key roles of powered armor is to protection of the operator, not to accommodate flight, much of the armor would have to be stripped to allow for increased fuel economy, especially when taking off from the ground. Any flying suit would be a target for AAA, and with less armor and no were near the defensive system of a fighter could all led to dead troopers. Then we have the fuel supply. Given the design of powered armor, there is an obviously lack of fuel storage tanks. Just examine the classic Iron Man suit, no tanks or storage devices that could allow for the performance of flight we've seen in the films and comics...not to mention outrunning F-22 Raptors! On the original gold-and-red comic armor, the liquid fuel tanks were in the cuff of the suit's boots. Seriously...in the cuff. There could be another way, if artificial muscle technology continued, we could propel powered armor on short-hops similar to a flea (not the bassist!).
Here is the Marvel article on how Iron Man could fly:
FULL BODY ARMOR VS. CLASS-1 POWERED ARMOR
There is some confusion about the difference between CLASS-1 powered armor and full-body combat armor. In modern warfare, full-body armor that covers nearly 100% of the soldier's body is extremely uncommon. The only example that I know of is the EOD bomb suit. Most soldiers today only wear ballistic armor on the head and center mass area, too allow for maneuverability and less weight. In it possible in the future that the need will arise for full body armor (maybe due to DE weapons?), but micro-A/C systems and flexible armor would need to also be developed. Full personal armor does not require motors/artificial muscle tissue to propel the suit, nor does it increase the wearer's strength, endurance, and less in abilities and complexity along with requiring less energy to operate.
THE WEAPONS OF POWERED ARMOR
The armored power suit of science fiction allows for a wide canvas for the creator to mount all manner of offensive and defensive systems. In the original 1959 Starship Troopers opening pages, capsule launched MIs from Rasczak's Roughnecks perform a "smash-and-destroy"raid a Skinny world using heavy-flamers, something called "knife beams" and less-than 2 kiloton atomic rockets. There was no mention of machine guns, assault rifles, nor rotary cannons...just these weapons. This could be due to the mission, but atomic weapons and only a flame-thrower for your defensive armament? Odd choice. It would take the Japanese animation and American RPGs to shape the powered armor weaponry from pulp-era lasers, heat rays, and atomic bombs to something akin to the attack helicopter and Blain from Predator.