There are bound to be millions of high school juniors and seniors going next weekend to see Iron Man 2. Of those, several thousand surely have not decided what their academic major will be when they enter college. Of these, a small number will see the movie and go "I'd like to build the Iron Man suit."
To you, tiny minority, I write this post. Now, I will be the first to tell you that it is very unlikely you, alone in your basement machine shop where you rebuild cars, will be able to build the single most technologically advanced piece of hardware in human history. But you certainly can make an impact in the development of that hardware. And if you place yourself correctly, you can be on the team that builds it.
There are four key things missing from the world of science and technology that are really required before Iron Man's suit can be reality.
1. Power Supply It is no coincidence that the development of Iron Man's suit begins with a power supply. Tony Stark (or rather Jon Favreau's engineering advisory team) made it patently clear that super strength requires a lot of energy. The engineering calculations for how much power needed aren't impossible to create, but currently that much power is! At least in a donut shaped, chest mounted device. Go into electrical engineering, physics, mechanical engineering, plasma research, or battery engineering and build Iron Man's arc reactor. Or something better.
2. Linear Actuator/Artificial Muscle Where exactly, does Iron Man's suit get its strength? The comics waste no time explaining it, probably because comic book writers/artists are not scientists. But the truth is a powered exoskeleton will need some kind of actuators to give it strength. Raytheon's suit uses hydraulics. Other suits use similar technologies including pneumatics or mechanical linear actuators. Electro-active Polymer Muscle (EPAM) and other artificial muscle technologies are still in fledgeling phases, and their suitability is questionable considering they need hundreds to thousands of volts to operate.
No, what we really need is for you to go into materials science or chemical engineering and develop a true artificial muscle. Normal human muscle has a strength of approximately 0.35 megapascals, so you need to invent artificial muscle with the same (or preferably greater) energy density. Want to really impress me? Go to school and learn how to make artificial muscle that has an energy density linearly correlated to current passing through it. And it generates little or no heat.
3. Control System Somehow, Tony Stark controls his armor. In the comics he uses direct neural linking, or the armor becomes part of him. In the first movie, they are rather ambiguous about how that is accomplished. My own research is on tracking eye gaze, and using that in combination with custom blink algorithms. Also, I humbly submit that voice recognition would be convenient. You could always just raise the faceplate if you wanted to talk to anyone other than the suit.
In any case, software engineers, neurobiologists, and electrical engineers need to get busy developing a breakthrough way for a human to interact with a machine. Or as I like to say, "we just need the drivers to make human software talk in 1's and 0's."
4. Weapons In the comics, Iron Man has a blistering array of sweet, powerful weapons. In the movie they mostly focus on his repulsors in his hands as weapons. So the long and short of it is: invent repulsors for your exoskeleton to fight with.
That's it, really. A blending of all four of those, toss in flight capability, and you have your own Iron Man armor. That is, if I don't beat you there.
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