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How far off are real ‘superhero’ powers?

Discussion in 'Tech, Gadgets & Science Forum' started by MziziMkavu, Apr 18, 2010.

  1. MziziMkavu

    MziziMkavu JF-Expert Member

    Apr 18, 2010
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    ‘ Kick-Ass ’ movie shares the possibilities, and some are within reach

    A Raytheon engineer readies the company's robot-like Exoskeleton for testing in this 2008 photo. When the exoskeleton is "worn," a user can easily carry a man on his back or lift 200 pounds several hundred times without tiring, according to Raytheon.

    In the new movie "Kick-Ass," the main character says, "You don’t need a power to become a superhero."
    But even the movie’s masked avengers — Hit Girl, Big Daddy and Kick-Ass — would agree, a few supernatural tricks up your Spandex sleeve can definitely help.
    How far are we from attaining those long-sought-after superpowers? In some cases, they’re practically here.
    Two weeks ago, scientists from the University of South Carolina, Switzerland and China announced the development of a boron carbide T-shirt that they believe can stop a bullet. Up until now, thick plates of boron carbide have been used to create body armor and to protect tanks. This new lightweight, flexible material “opens up unprecedented opportunities,” including “tougher body armors” and even “lightweight, fuel-efficient cars and aircrafts.” Batmobile, anyone?
    "We’ve known how to make very strong materials for a long time and boron carbide is very, very strong — it has the same kind of structural strength as a diamond," says Dr. James Kakalios, physics professor at the University of Minnesota and author of "The Physics of Superheroes."
    "They’ve managed to get boron to diffuse into the fibers and bond to the carbon (of a T-shirt). So now you have boron carbide down at the molecular level. And the thing remains flexible. It combines structural strength with elasticity and flexibility."
    Could this new material be used, say, for a “super suit”?
    "That’s exactly right," says Kakalios.
    Move over, Iron Man
    Super strength is also not far afield, although not in the sense that an average Joe could lift the entire continent of South America like Captain Marvel.
    "In some sense, we have super strength now by using our superpower of super intelligence," says Kakalios. "We can lift giant boulders using steam shovels. The key idea is to shrink these mechanical advantages down to the level where it can be operated by a single person in what would look like a suit of armor."
    These suits of armor — or robotic exoskeletons — are in existence now, designed for the military to increase the strength, endurance and agility of soldiers in combat.
    Likened to the helmeted suit created by genius engineer Tony Stark in the comic “Iron Man," the 150-pound exoskeletons are made of sensors, actuators and controllers and increase a person’s strength and endurance by as much as 20 times.
    Cybernetic helmets — devices that allow us to move objects with our mind — are also in the works, says Kakalios.
    "In ‘Iron Man,’ we never see Tony Stark press buttons or give voice-activated commands; his suit just responds," he says. "When you think, you generate weak electromagnetic waves and scientists at MIT, the University of Minnesota and many other institutions are working on devices that can detect these electromagnetic waves and use them to send information to some sort of motorized device. They’re making tremendous advances in this."
    Up, up and away
    Ah, but what of the ultimate superpower — flying?
    Martin Jetpack​
    The Martin Jetpack lifts a test pilot into the air.
    "A week ago during dinner, we were all having the conversation about which superpower is better," says Julie Barclay, a 46-year-old mother of five from Vancouver, Wash.
    "One of my sons wanted to be a shape shifter and another wanted to have the power to make anything he wanted appear. But when it came down to it, we all decided that flying would probably be the best. I would love to have the power of flight. My life would be so expedited if I could move from point A to point B without stoplights."

    Thanks to jetpacks, human flight is possible, although Kakalios says it’s still hampered by an age-old bugaboo.
    No, not "The Tick" — the power supply.
    "We have jetpacks today, but the problem is it takes a lot of energy to lift you up and fly you someplace," he says. "A long flight would take hundreds and hundreds of gallons of gasoline.
    "So the technology exists but we need a (better) power supply. You could have a nuclear power supply on your back, but few people would feel comfortable with that, aside from the Ghostbusters."