A Real Iron Man Suit for the U.S. Military Still Needs a Hollywood Touch

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
July 8 2014 12:01 PM

A Real Iron Man Suit for the U.S. Military Still Needs a Hollywood Touch

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Robert Downey Jr. isn't consulting on the real-life development of Iron Man, but there's still a big Hollywood presence.

Photo by TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

Who wouldn't want to build a real-life Iron Man? Companies like Ekso Bionics have been working on it for years. Now, many of them are coming together to consult for the U.S. military on Project TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit) and develop the ultimate robotic exoskeleton for soldiers. On the front lines of the project are the true experts: the Oscar-nominated special effects team behind the onscreen suit in Iron Man.

For TALOS, Legacy Effects, which also made suits for RoboCop and X-Men: Days of Future Past, is working alongside other companies to try to make the military’s dream a reality. But the stakes are a little bit higher when you’re designing for a soldier instead of an actor or stuntman. As Lindsay MacGowan, a co-founder of Legacy Effects, told the Wall Street Journal, “When you’re doing something for a movie it is all make-believe, whereas for the military that’s really not going to be the case.”

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According to the Journal, the deadline for a first wave of prototypes was approaching in May when U.S. Special Operations Command began using a warehouse near Tampa, Florida, to house plans, components, and suits that developers have created. Special Operations Command, which has put about $10 million into the project so far, reviewed the prototypes in late June. The goal is to accelerate TALOS so it can make progress more quickly than a normal military technology project that uses contractors.

As i09 points out, though, the project has a lot of skeptics. For example, Military News spoke to an official at a big defense firm who said, “To do it right, they need about a billion dollars ... Twenty million dollars a year in an R&D budget— you couldn’t even develop a pencil on that.”

Developers consulting for TALOS say that it’s all about aiming high while also mediating expectations. Brian Dowling, who is overseeing Revision Military’s work on the project, told the Journal, “Will you ever have an Iron Man? I don't know. But you'll have some greatly improved technology along the way.” On the other hand, maybe the military just needs to pull it together—all Tony Stark needed to build the original suit was physicist Ho Yinsen and the threat of his own impending death.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

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