Thursday, April 5, 2012

The A to Z of Fiction to Reality: Exo-suits

Exo-suit isn't really a very common term being tossed around these days, but it's a very exciting concept to me. Let's get you up to date. When you think of an exo-suit, you should think of
Or maybe

Iron man is probably the most famous fictional character to wear an exo-suit, and comics have been the genre where these things have been the most prevalent.
And I could just go on and on posting pictures from comics, but I'm sure you get the idea. Exo-suits have been working their way into movies, too.
From Alien:

And Avatar:

But, for me, it all really started with a game:

That's not what the game I started playing back in the '80s looked like, but it's pretty close. A (board)game where you get inside a big, robotic exo-suit and fight other guys in big, robotic exo-suits. There have been all kinds of video games based on the whome mechwarrior thing along with some tabletop miniature games. I'm still waiting for the MMO.

These things are already entering reality. Not the giant ones, but ones that look like

Hybrid Assistive Limb (or HAL)

The HAL is already commercially available in Japan. Currently, it's targeted at people with disabilities, but it allows the wearer, any wearer, to lift up to 5 times as much as they normally can. The newest model, the HAL-5, has a system that is integrated with the wearers nervous sytem, making it the world's first fully integrated cyborg system.

And this is what the US military is working on:
This particular model isn't available yet, but they've been working on prototypes for a while now.

At the moment, Iron Man is just entertainment. A comic book series. Some movies. But it won't be long until an iron man will be coming to a town near you!


  1. I've been seeing a lot of medieval armor exo-suits. Every time I climb one of those skinny, twisty castle stairways I understand why people wanted an exoskeleton. Treacherous!

  2. The real difficulty in building the mech sized suits is power. We don't have arc reactors to use. Makes it tough. And as cool as it is that the military is working on them, I recall that they spent quite a number of years working on psychic assassins too.

  3. The HAL suit is a cool idea, but five times stronger? Guess they didn't want anyone breaking his suit.

  4. I agree, the HAL suit is really neat. But now this reminds me of the cyborg insect again. How come every time I think futuristic, I think Blade Runner? *shrug*

  5. Is that US Military one made out of tin foil?

    You'd probably like this article

    on the cost of real-life Iron Man suits. As for me, I'm tired and crabby, so let me be skeptical again: I'm not sure why we're building "Exo Suits" for industrial purposes that look like people. I get it for handicapped folks, but for industrial/military uses, wouldn't it be incredibly inconvenient to walk around at a thudding pace?

    (See also: AT-ATs)

    Back on Offutt's blog a while ago, I proposed exoplanet rovers that were large balls which could have robotic arms come out of them. These balls couldn't tip over and be nonfunctional and could go wherever a rover with wheels could go, plus the robotic arms could be used as legs where necessary.

    Form follows function. I know a superhero named "Iron Globe" wouldn't be as exciting but it might have worked better.

    The reason there's Exo Suits in movies is because they look cool; but in real life we should be making things work better.

    On the other hand: Excellent post.

  6. I'm all about exo-suits. You expend less energy, are able to go beyond normal human boundaries. It's perfect for my lazy sensibilities.

  7. If I ever get an Exo Dress, I want pockets. And it has to be easy to wash and dry. None of this dry cleaning business! And the seams had better be able to be let out or taken in. I don't want to have to be buying a new one every few years. Oh, and I need it in purple. I look good in that.

  8. The main reason I would want an exo-suit like Iron Man's is so that I could fly. However, it looks like it will be years and years before they're able to do anything like that. :)

  9. Oh wow...U.S. Military is goin' sci-fi Halo on us. That's awesome. It'll get more men to sign up.

    I use exo suits in my book. I just think they kinda look sexy on a guy. I know you're not gay but I am. I like that tight, awesome armor look.

  10. Ha that's awesome :) I want an exo suit but first I have to get in better shape.

  11. Iron Man is possibly my favorite superhero (even before Robert Downey Jr. came along and made him more awesome). His suit is the best. Great post.

  12. Excellent word choice, senor. I do have to mention, since you brought up comics, that Robert Kirkman's series "Tech Jacket" is pretty entertaining.

  13. This is a fascinating post...never knew there was a term "exo-suits" to describe what a superhero wore. Thanks for enlightening me! Enjoy the challenge...

  14. L.G.: I don't think I'd actually want a suit of armor for stairs. What if you fell? It would be like a tutle. "I've fallen, and I can't get up!"

    Rusty: I don't really expect mech-sized suits, but I do expect there to be exo-suits for the military and industrial work within, probably, the next decade. They don't actually require a lot of power, because a lot of it relies on natural resistance. Or something. As for psychic assassins, I'm pretty sure the military never actually had a prototype for any of those. Speaking of, have you seen Men Who Stare At Goats?

    Alex: I think there's an issue of safety if you go much beyond that, at this point.

    Alyssia: Because everyone believes Blade Runner is our future. It's why it's the most influential sci-fi movie ever made.

    Briane: They're not actually big and thudding. They're more like braces that attach to the limbs. If you look at that military prototype, you can see the braces on the outside of the leg area. They make people faster and able to jump farther, too. I've seen a video of that, but I couldn't find it when I was writing the post.

    TS: LOL Yeah, they may even be easier than cars for short trips.

    Donna: Purple is probably not a problem... probably.

    Lauren: Yeah, they don't really have the flying thing down, yet. We're really not close to jet packs at all.

    Michael: Of course, the problem, at the moment, is that the military is already turning people away, because they have more people signing up than they can use.

    Pish: Why would you need to get into better shape for an exo-suit? Maybe an exo-suit would help you get in better shape?

    S.L.: I'm still all about Spider-Man.

    ABftS: I've never heard of Tech Jacket. I've been out of comics for a while, though (longer than I like). I'll look it up.

    Jarm: Yeah, exo-suit is actually shortened from exoskeletal powered suit or something like that. Actually, I think there are multiple longer terms, but the catchphrase for all of those terms is exo-suit.

  15. Oooo, I didn't know they already had versions out in Japan. Awesome!

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

  16. Shannon: Yeah, other countries end up with lots of things before us, because they don't have as much red tape to get through to get products out to the public.