In Brief

Iron Man designers to build body armour for US army

Hollywood special effect team is working on a new Iron Man 'agile exoskeleton' for US soldiers

The Oscar-nominated special effects team behind the Iron Man suit has been contracted to design body armour for the US military.

Legacy Effects, a Hollywood design studio based in California, has previously worked on power suits for films such as RoboCop, Captain America, The Terminator and Iron Man. Now, the company is building body armour equipped with an "agile exoskeleton" that will allow soldiers to carry hundreds of pounds of equipment, the Wall Street Journal reports.

"We are trying to be revolutionary," said Mike Fieldson, who manages the US military project known as the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (Talos).

Three prototypes have been presented to the Pentagon by teams of bioengineers, technologists and a Canadian company that studies insect and animal exoskeletons. The prototypes will contribute to the creation of a new generation of body armour which the US Special Operations Command aims to complete within four years.

The suits are designed to protect soldiers from bullets, explosions and bayonet attacks.

Legacy Effects admits that bringing an Iron Man to life presents significant challenges. For one thing, a real-life version of the suit would add extra bulk to a soldier limiting his or her agility. Also, the company estimates that the Iron Man suit would probably weigh about 180kg, and would need to be supported by a mobile exoskeleton, but "none of the exoskeletons in the industry are capable of moving that much weight", SlashGear reports.

Russ Angold of Ekso Bionics, a company that designs exoskeletons for medical use, says that power armour in films offer an unrealistic model, so engineers are presently trying to make the suits more practical. "Hollywood has definitely made the Iron Man suit impossibly thin, impossibly light, impossibly agile and impossibly energy efficient. So we're really trying to solve the problem and ask the question: What would Iron Man look like if it was real?"

The US military has so far spent about $10 million on Talos, prompting the armed services committee to request a briefing on the project to ensure taxpayer money is not being wasted.

"Will you ever have an Iron Man? I don't know," said Brian Dowling, a former soldier involved in the project. "But you'll have some greatly improved technology along the way".

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