Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Powered armor (also mechanized, battle, personal armor and suits) is a science fiction concept referring to a type of armored self-powered exoskeleton that is typically intended for use in battle, construction and survival in dangerous enviroments. Because the great weight of such a suit would be impractical for a human to wear without assistance, such suits are typically portrayed as providing enhanced strength and mobility to their wearers by some means (be it hydraulics, artificial muscle fibers, or anti-gravity), enabling them to move around while wearing the suit as though unencumbered. One can consider modern spacesuits and hard diving suits to be a very early type of unarmed powered armor.
In most portrayals of powered armor, the suit is usually not much larger than a human. In fact, it is more accurately described as a battlesuit with mechanical and electronic mechanisms designed to augment the wearer's abilities. In addition to the benefits provided by the exoskeleton, other popular features include internal life support for hostile environments, protection from environmental hazards such as radiation and vacuum, weapons targeting systems, firearms affixed directly to the suit itself, and transportation mechanisms that allow the wearer to fly, make giant leaps, or speed by on ground.
Japanese animation (anime) and comics (manga) often feature powered armor in the mecha subgenre; both the subgenre and the suits are called "mecha". Most mecha are not human-enhancing exoskeletons so much as human-operated robots, although there are some exceptions to the rule. The distinction between smaller mecha and their smaller cousins (and likely progenitors), the powered armor suits, is blurred; according to one definition, a mecha is piloted while a powered armor is worn. Anything large enough to have a cockpit where the pilot is seated is generally considered a mecha. Masamune Shirow uses powered armor suits called "Landmates" in most of his stories, while the "Armored Trooper" of Armored Trooper VOTOMS are an example of piloted powered armor-sized mecha.
The first citable examples of powered suits were the Fat Man underwater suits (with mechanical pantograph arms and a propulsion system), which debuted in Tom Swift and His Jetmarine (1954). The powered suit of Robert Heinlein’s 1959 novel Starship Troopers can be seen as spawning the entire sub-genre concept of military "powered armor". A Japanese animated version of Starship Troopers was produced by Sunrise with mechanical designs by Studio Nue , which presented a reasonable visual portrayal of how the suit operated (although the OAV story differed greatly from the Heinlein novel).
Numerous American comic book characters use powered armor, primarily the Marvel Comics superhero Iron Man, who is an industrialist who fights evil and protects his company with a special suit of powered armor of his own design. Other notable powered armor users in Western comics include Steel, X-O Manowar and the supervillain Doctor Doom. The Fallout computer role-playing game series is notable for its use of powered armors in retro-'50s style. The super-soldier Master Chief in the video game series Halo is clad in energy-shielded and strength enhancing, 1-ton armored suit called the MJOLNIR battle armor, that can allow him to turn over armored vehicles, and the character is heavily associated with the suit.
Powered armor is heavily used in science fiction role-playing games, such as Rifts, to allow weak and mundane humans to compete in combat with supernatural and super-powerful adversaries. Games Workshopīs science fiction world Warhammer 40,000 is most famous for Space Marines, the ultimate genetically engineered superhuman warriors who wear ancient powered armors that are seen almost as godlike in their lost technology.
An alternative sf concept to the powered armor would be the skinsuit, a very thin and flexible powered armor variant. The skinsuit typically uses a type of artificial muscle that increases strength, resistance and endurance, but usually sacrifices enviromental protection, sensory equipment, and built-in weaponry. The suits seen in the anime and manga versions of Spriggan and Gantz or skull suit from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty would be prime example of this form of armor.
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