The Hollywood Science of ‘Iron Man 2′ is Here Today…Kind of
For decades, mankind has longed for cool exo-suits. In the 1960s, Tony Stark created one of the coolest fictional suits of high-tech armor ever. The Iron Man suit (and its many updated models) responds to brainwaves, increases strength, allows for flight and is equipped with electro-magnetic “repulsor blasts.” It’s always seemed like science has been generations from achieving anything remotely as cool.
But that may not be the case. In Japan, scientists have created HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb), an robotic suit which allows a human being to lift objects that are as much as ten times heavier than what they could normally pick up. This suit is more compact than previous exo-skeletons that have been designed by the military. More importantly, the battery pack worn on the waist makes this suit portable, whereas previous attempts at hight-tech, strength-enhancing suits have always required plugging into a power source. The battery lasts for about two hours and forty minutes.
Like Iron Man’s suit, HAL responds to the signals of the brain to the body and sends commands to the suit’s motor. Thus, the suit moves in smoothly and in synch with the body. Because of this, the suit has proved to be very useful in assisting people with physical disabilities or limitations. Hospitals in Japan have been leasing the HAL suit at $2,000 a month to help people in physical rehabilitation remember what it is to walk and move with greater ease, motivating them to enhance their treatment.
HAL was developed by Prof. Yoshiyuki Sankai, who has been developing the technology for the past twenty years. Professor Sankai is the CEO of the venture firm Cyberdyne, which created the HAL suit and is beginning mass production.
Now before anyone freaks out that a company called Cyberdyne (the same company that created the Terminator robots, noob) has just created something called HAL (you get that reference right?), be assured that it’s not simple coincidence or fate. Sankai deliberately named his company and his suit after things from his favorite science fiction films. It’s his way of ironically showing that tech doesn’t have to be frightening.
The HAL suits still have limitations that Sankai hopes to overcome. One can’t help but wonder if, in a few years, something similar to the Iron Man suit could at last be possible. Of course, they’d have to redesign it completely so you didn’t look like a bit of a dork wearing this thing. Plus, they’d have to add repulsor blasts!
And in case you think I’m kidding, we actually might be on our way to repulsor blasts already. Researchers have created ball lightning in the past and recently some folks at the University of Tel Aviv have used a 600-watt magnetron microwave drill to create a flaming column which then morphed into a fireball that lasted for about 10 milliseconds before being snuffed out. So if you could just increase this effect and put it in a glove, we’d be one step closer to seeing Iron Man truly come to life!