On screen, Captain Rogers’ transition from slim to studly may seem more unbelievable than Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, but the truth is, it would probably be a lot easier to field an army of Captain Americas than an army of Iron Men. There are already many robotic exoskeleton programs underway across the globe, but for the most part, many of these programs face the same fundamental challenges; chief among them has to be the issue of power storage.
Today’s lithium-ion batteries are far more capable than batteries of the past when it comes to running our cell phones, cars, and even some military submarines, but battery technology is still nowhere near what it would need to be in order to power anything close to Iron Man’s suit. Even if you were to eliminate flying (which really sucks the fun out of it), the power requirements to move around in an armored exoskeleton would almost certainly mean having to stay tethered to an industrial power supply.
Nearly ten years ago now, U.S. Special Operations Command announced plans to build an Iron Man suit of their own called TALOS. Suddenly, the idea of Navy SEALs kicking in doors dressed like War Machine seemed so feasible that the service even released an official video that looked an awful lot like they were planning to do that very thing.
Related: China develops new exoskeleton suits for troops on Indian border
But by 2018, SOCOM chose to cancel the program, and while some elements of it are sure to live on under other developmental banners, the decision to shut TALOS down was almost certainly informed by how hard it is to make a robotic suit that can power itself and be so reliable we could stick a human operator in one under enemy fire.
Exoskeletons are still finding their way into service, however, like China’s that has been deployed in their high-altitude standoff with India, or the Sarcos Defense Guardian XO Alpha robotic exoskeleton currently being tested by the U.S. Marine Corps. Neither of these suits boast armor, however. They’re really more like biped forklifts, which while genuinely useful, very clearly fails to live up to TALOS’ hype.
Related: Check out this real-life robotic exoskeleton Marines are getting
It’s far more likely that we’ll see technology-enhanced humans on the battlefield (think less Iron Man and more Cyborg) well before power armor starts rolling off the production line.
“Technology is accelerating, and we are entering the fourth industrial revolution, this biological revolution,” Dr. Peter Emanuel said on Left of Boom–a podcast hosted by Military.com’s former Managing Editor, Hope Hodge Seck.
“To some extent, we’ve already seen the integration of man and machine over many years — in the use of pacemakers. To some extent, we’re already seeing mankind become more intimate with technology.”
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Feature image courtesy of Marvel
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