Is Iron Man possible? Hardly

By Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca

As May approaches, so too does the big summer blockbuster movie season. That means you can bank on a number of flicks based on comic books coming - this year we've got additional instalments in the Hulk and Batman franchises. And, of particular interest to we here in tech land, there is of course Iron Man.

For the uninitiated, Iron Man (the real "man of steel") is the alter ego of billionaire industrialist, playboy and sometimes alcoholic Tony Stark. As the original story went, Stark built weapons for the U.S. military and was captured by enemy forces during the Vietnam war. The Viet Cong forced Stark to build them a killer weapon. Instead, he secretly built the Iron Man armour, which he donned and turned on his captors, fighting his way to freedom and back to the good ol' U.S.A. From there, he turned over a new leaf and pledged to fight evil and the forces of darkness, yadda yadda yadda. Somewhere along the way, he switched the armour colour scheme from its traditional red and gold to red and silver, thus causing huge upheaval in fandom before eventually reverting back to the old standard.

Iron Man has always been particularly interesting to comic fans with an interest in technology because, rather than being bitten by a radioactive bug or finding himself in some weird experiment gone awry, he got his powers the old-fashioned way: he built them. It's in that spirit that Wired Magazine has a nicely done piece by James Kakalios, who is a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota and the author of The Physics of Superheroes.

Kakalios posits that Iron Man's armour is a nice idea, but far from achievable, primarily because the energy needed to power the suit's functions - such as jet boots and repulsor rays - would be greater than that produced by a full-sized nuclear power plant. That's hardly the capacity that could be stuffed into a man-sized suit. On the bright side, Kakalios says Stark's cybernetic helmet - through which he controls the armour - is actually not that far off.

I've always wondered a couple of other things. Firstly, how does such thin and form-fitting armour provide him with so much protection? Iron Man is capable of withstanding tank-fired shells, or blows from the Crimson Dynamo. How so? Secondly, what kind of internet access does Stark get in that thing? Is he using 802.11n Wi-Fi, WiMax or something even better? And what kind of a web browser has he got in that helmet? It must also be cybernetically controlled, so why can't Stark share that technology? Surely it would revolutionize the web experience?