In the summer blockbuster Pacific Rim, humanity must create giant robotic war machines called Jaegers to combat colossal monsters that have emerged from an interdimensional gateway to destroy us. It’s fairly obvious that suspension of disbelief will be omnipresent throughout this film. Huge monsters aside, though, is it possible to create gigantic robots piloted by humans? If so, what technological advancements would it require?
The concept, referred to as ‘mecha’, is nothing new in science fiction. We find the roots of immense robots in Japanese print comics, animation and movies. But now, they’ve since spread to other forms of entertainment in the West.
In real life, the concept has been researched by several military-industrial corporations. DARPA, General Electric, and others have created robotic suits of armor — called powered exoskeletons — for enhancing a soldier’s ability in combat.
Monty Reed, a disabled veteran, demonstrates the LIFESUIT robotic exoskeleton he helped to design.
One good example is Monty Reed, a US Army Ranger, who broke his back in a parachuting accident in 1986. While recovering in the hospital, he read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and was inspired by the book’s portrayal of powered armor. Reed created a suit that allowed him, and other disabled soldiers, to continue fighting. The current prototype, LIFESUIT LS14, helps the wearer lift up to 200 pounds or walk one mile on a full charge.
We all should celebrate the difference in qualty-of-life that these small, encasing suits bring to individuals. But what something larger like the Jaegers? Is it probable to envision the 260-foot, 2,000-ton robot suits of Pacific Rim? Would it be such a leap of engineering to create one?
The largest robot ever created is Vulcan Engineering’s MegaBot, an industrial-sized armature for large-scale construction projects. Still though, MegaBot is only six meters tall — a little guy compared to the awesome fictional mecha in the movie.
But if we can create huge robotic arms and encase soldiers in mechanized suits of armor, could we not combine the two ideas and make our own Jaegers? According to recent testimony by key Japanese political figures, their nation just might be trying to do exactly that.
A life-sized statue of Gundam was installed in Japan for the 30th anniversary of the franchise.
One of the earliest and most popular incarnations of mecha in fiction is Yoshiyuki Tomino’s groundbreaking anime Mobile Suit Gundam — a sci-fi war story that follows a young engineer caught in the middle of a struggle between Earth and its space colonies. Gundam is one of the most popular media franchises in Japan.
Speaking on a political talk show (broadcast on the website NicoNico Douga), members of the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party — including key figures such as party VP Tadamori Oshima and former general secretary Bunmei Ibuki — said that the LDP was “seriously considering” a project to turn Tomino’s giant fighting robots into a reality.
Reactions in Japan have been mixed. “Why not start by making some robots which can clean up after a nuclear accident” wrote someone in reference to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Another criticized the financial impracticality of the project saying that it “would be useless in real war if they could be taken down with some tripwire, Battle of Hoth-style”.
In the early 1960s, the US military actually had a giant robot, the Beetle — built by General Electric.
Despite Japan’s aims, Daniel Wilson, author of Robopocalypse, states that it will NOT ever be possible to create giant robots. In an interview with I09, Wilson said he doesn’t believe that Jaeger-size machines can be built with the materials we have available here on Earth.
“A giant robot of that awesome magnitude would be more feasible on a smaller planet with less gravity, and made from advanced materials — nanomaterials or light, as in a hologram. I don’t know how any actuator would be able to keep such a giant structure upright in a high wind — much less move it with enough dexterity to walk.”
So, would it be possible to create a Jaeger in real life? The Japanese government is certainly eager to try, but the answer is not so clear. Certainly before any immense robotic warrior is made, there’ll be many technological hurdles to overcome. Regardless of the relative infeasibility, though, I have to admit that the idea itself is pretty cool.