Good sci-fi is based on real science. Read about the current science that lead to the technology of The Demon Archives.


Nov 2012

Powered Armor – Part 1: Overview

Posted by / in Science / 23 comments

Minerva has long held the advantage against the raider groups and paramilitary dictatorships that it has encountered.  This is due in large part to Minerva’s Aegis Mobile Assault squads.  While gunships, satellites and armored troop transport vehicles all serve their part, in hostage and rescue missions the infiltration ability of an Aegis squad is unmatched.

Aegis squads – composed of 20 soldiers cross-trained in various aspects of medicine, support, and combat roles – are broken down into 4 pentads of 5 soldiers each.  The armor capabilities of a standard Aegis soldier are sufficient to stop nearly all small arms fire and even long rifle fire up to 50 caliber rounds.

Even at the beginning of the Rebirth, when the world was in chaos from the War, the strength of Aegis’ armor was sufficient to maintain an extremely low fatality rate for the standard soldier.  However, the increasingly advanced and organized opposition  – based around pre-War military installations – has led to a higher incidence of fatalities due to the widespread use of armor-piercing and high-caliber anti-personnel rounds.

In order to respond to this increased threat, Aegis required improved armor.  While developing a response to this problem, Glaucus’ researchers delved into the indexed databases of ancient researchers maintained by Oculus.

The researchers found that a common early limitation for personal body armor centered around the weight carrying capacity of the soldier.  This capacity is the maximum amount of weight the soldier can carry while still being able to effectively react against the present threat.  Stronger, heavier armor was desired for increased protection, but above a certain weight the soldier lost too much mobility.  Since a soldier’s mobility is stressed sufficiently by the gear and pack required for an operation, adding another 200 pounds of armor plating would be excessive, essentially turning the soldier into a static defense unit.  Historically, this conundrum led to the evolution of the tank and shift in military dogma to large and powerful remote strike units.  Air superiority and naval presence allowed for long distance strikes and proved the axiom of “a strong offense is the best defense”.  However, during the Rebirth, hostage and small scale skirmishes became the de facto standard.  House to house combat and rescue situations rendered the larger and more deadly solutions ineffective.

At the same time, advances in biotechnology by Glaucus researchers allowed for economic and controlled growth of carbon nanotubes.  This led to the development of artificial muscles that provided the flexibility needed for motive force.  Unlike previous attempts using pistons and actuators, these organic muscles could provide the range of movement required for warfare.  Semi-organic armor plating was also able to be  “grown” using layers of nanotubes.  This created a system of scale-like armor which allowed for flexible but strong plating, reducing the pinching found in more rigid armor.  The resulting armor is essentially a living inner suit of armor upon which more rigid armor plating can be grafted.  The inner armor, being a fibrous-based material, is by itself capable of resisting smaller caliber rounds.  The outer armor plating can redirect and reduce the impact of higher caliber and advanced rounds.

Using this and other technological advances, Glaucus’ is currently developing a solution.  Known as project “Oracle”, it consists of the improved power-armor with artificial muscle technology and an adaptive Artificial Intelligence (AI) interface.  The integrated AI in each armor unit not only assists in basic control of the suit and integrated battlefield analysis, but by theoretically linking with the soldier’s mind it could allow for rapid twitch reflexes and movement.  A finely calibrated AI could be able to detect the approach of bullets, shells, or rockets and adjust the armor panels to deflect the main force of the round.  Given the costliness of this prototype solution, it is currently issued only to squad captains in order to determine its efficiency.

Similar armor solutions were conceived by the pre-War people.  Early 21st century authors explored the concept of what war could be like if advanced technology overcome the weight carrying capacity of soliders.  Books such as:

explored the theoretical possibilities made real today by Glaucus’ research.

Continued analysis of the technical limitations and enhancements of armor will be continued in parts 2 and 3 of this document.  We welcome feedback and critique to this analysis and would hope that when completed it will serve to ground the science of this story in relevant 21st century technology.


[Art by Dan Butcher, creator of the excellent superhero comic Vanguard.]


  • Morgenstern

    First glance at the art shows that the artist is shooting for the suit’s silhouette to match human proportions… which isn’t possible. In the color bust, imagine a second layer showing the face and body attached to it and ignoring the armor for a moment – it would become clear his shoulders are inside the torso of the armor and not in the arms at all! Likewise no operators’ arms or legs are spindly enough to fit inside the suit as shown. Absolute distances like the length of hip-joint-to-knee and knee-to-ankle and shoulder-to-shoulder do not scale when you layer armor over them. I would literally start over with a drawing of the operator in the skinsuit then draw/paint the armor over them and the more squat nature of the finished outline will reveal itself. It’s gonna look a little simian (and very threatening) but that’s a plus, because a more compact form is actually easier to move around in, to roll and get back to you feet, and its a shorter drop to the ground when you need to dive flat before firing back. You’ll also immediately see why in medieval armor the groin and the armpit are some of the crucial weak points – there is just no room to layer armor over those locations without them standing in a permanent bow-legged half-squat or with their arms sticking out like the kid wearing 5 layers of coats in “The Christmas Story” movie :).

    Basically you choices are a non-human silhouette or for the operator’s limbs to be held mostly within the torso and the limbs being operated by neural feed while the real limbs are essentially restrained/paralyzed or the Shirow/Appleseed solution where the arms are in smaller protective sleeves and the main suit arms mimic them like puppetry. Given the relatively small size of your suits and the way they are used, the non-human silhouette is probably the best :).

    • More good thoughts from the Professor :D

      We are actively aware about the proportions thing, and have a couple different idea’s methods to deal with it :)

      Also, @NickDA:disqus, see this page as a good example of how the theme is still borked for font size.

      • Morgenstern

        Heehee. Even if you never show it in the story, imagine the operators in stripped down practice armor having to do group exercise on a “mat”. And then sparring. Like modern day troops playing basketball in full chem-warfare gear, absolute comfort and familiarity of action while suited up would take a lot of time to build and more time to maintain for an elite force. Plus it’s always hilarious to watch the new guy forced to cook the entire squad’s omelet breakfast from inside the suit :). No breaking those eggs except when you mean to ;). Control is a lot more important than strength – and harder to learn.

        • There’s actually a very similar scene in a favorite fantasy book of mine (Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson), where the soldiers with their fantasy/magic power armor do basically just that :)

          • Morgenstern

            Yes, Brandon is very clever sometimes :).

          • Oh have you read him? He’s definitely my favorite fantasy author. I took his creative writing class, which is how this whole project got started :)

          • Tamara Haitaka

            I read his Mistborn series. I loved it! The way he describes this magic system and shows it more than explains it. I have an idea for a “new” (I haven’t read anything like it at least) “magic” (sort of) system too and tried to write about it, but I haven’t reached the “show and tell” equilibrium yet, so I’m not going to expose anyone I don’t know yet.

          • His new series, The Stormlight Archive, is even better :)

            I’d love to hear about your system sometime! There are some good subreddits dedicated to discussing magic system ideas too.

          • Tamara Haitaka

            I’ll put it on my list of books I’m allowing myself to buy ^^

            What are subreddits? I googled it, so I gather it’s a summary of things people have said about all kinds of subjects? But it looks like a lot of information and maybe I’m a bit lazy ^^; Do you have links to a good reddit about magis system ideas?

          • Reddit is a social media site, a content aggregrator. Subreddits are subforums devoted to a particular topic.

            For example Brandon Sanderson (/u/mistborn on reddit) posts in the subreddit /r/fantasy.

            I’d recommend you look at /r/MagicBuilding: which is where a bunch of people post their magic building ideas.

      • NickDA

        Yeah I see that… something odd with the html of this page when we imported it… should be an easy fix.

    • Morgenstern

      Some suggested viewing –

      Look at every point at which his body touches the ground. Particularly the triceps (outer face of the upper arm) and rolling across the shoulder blades to protect the spine. These are examples of ground contact points when you’re avoiding damage from a fall and good candidates for the use of rubber bumpers/buffers. When you are wrapped in a few hundred pounds of composites you really want to avoid damage from falling – both because the gear is expensive and because it’ll really hurt :). Also note that movements like these are examples of why a squat design is better than a spindly one. The closer you extremities are to your center of gravity, the less they can serve as levers to tip you over.

    • NickDA

      “the groin and the armpit are some of the crucial weak points” … keep reading :D

    • Hi Morgenstern! I have a lot to catch up but I still have some time before I work on the next armors.

      the joints were definitively weak points for Tenzin..

      I think in Tenzin’s current armor as a result of adding things to a design. they just kept putting more and newer tech over the basic idea of protecting a human soldier, no one tried to think outside the box ( Nick, Dan, maybe Minerva has some rigid boundaries for design process ;) ).

      Just like Tenzin himself, his armor its not the best that there could have been, and that’s part of the story. and one of the aspects that I like more of it :)

      • Morgenstern

        Ah yes. “Feature Creep” is the bane of soldiers everywhere. Any time you add something to the armor three things happen – 1. you get some utility in a situation uncommon enough that it wasn’t addressed in the initial design (i.e. not that often). 2. You add weight, which always either reduces you speed (which gets you killed) or reduces your fuel range/operating time (which shrinks the variety of missions you can accomplish), and 3. you give your maintenance section one more piece of crap they have to pull off before they can start fixing stuff ;). The down time is real.

        I can totally envision squads (discretely) pulling off some of the extra bits and piling them in the corner of the transport to be reattached after the op. If its a really good extra bit, maybe half of them will be assigned to carry it ‘just in case’. But your top shooters and the pointman are going to run as absolutely lean as can be arranged. Reaction speed is life.

        You should look over your tech base. If its high enough to have tactile skins, consider if other disciplines are similarly advanced, like rapid prototyping. How long of a time span between generations of suits? Can the manufacturing and development support branches like a specific plug-in sniper module or variant? Or a dedicated comms operator version who can afford to be a little heavier/slower because he’s not going to be on point?

        • My current thoughts on this is that it is a mix of :

          1) There wasn’t a real arms race pushing armor and weapons to their utmost efficiency. What they had was more than good enough to deal with all of Minerva’s enemies at the time.

          2) Glaucus researchers as a whole don’t like researching weapons and warfare (cause of WW3 and etc, you know), so not as much of what is developed is applied directly to armor and weapons.

          3) Not everything that Glaucus does develop gets applied due to military stubbornness of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, and what is applied often follows the feature creep thing you mention.

          We’ll see this drastically change later in the story when Tenzin gets a larger say in what tech his armor and weapons get.

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  • the new pic is awesome, love it

  • Amberlight

    Why does a person on the new picture has a mask? Powered arms, powered legs… powered face?

    • Not sure, I’ll have to ask the artist. It’s probably supposed to be a prototype neural hookup of some kind, that just LOOKs like a mask.

    • Checked with the artist. The man has long hair tied back/pushed back with a hood of some kind. That’s what he was trying to convey at least.

  • Oooh, that looks cool XD I don’t think we had heard ofthis beforehand. Thanks for pointing it out :)

    • Moxie

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. If I’m lucky enough to win the power millions jackpot this is one of the stories I intend to bring it to CGI life.