The “Science behind the Video Game” | Iron Man


In recent years Marvel has accustomed us to cinematographic films that came out at the rate of two or three a year: however, almost a year after Spiderman: Far from home, also due to the COVID epidemic, we will have to wait a few more months for the first film of phase four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fortunately, the videogame world did not remain idle and gave birth to Iron Man VR, a new experience for PSVR that allows you to wear the role of the well-known superhero with an immersion never seen before.

But how does the Iron Man armor work? What secrets are you hiding? Let’s find out together …

The materials of the Iron Man armor

Let’s start by analyzing the construction materials of this wonder. In the Iron Man 3 movie Tony Stark states that his prodigious armor is made of a compound of titanium and gold: the “Jarvis, a second screen experience” application, released in 2013, specifically reveals that the Mark III armor, ad example, it is composed of an alloy containing 95.5% titanium and 4.5% gold. The irony says that three years later, in 2016, an alloy of gold and titanium, the β-Ti3Au, was composed, this time composed of 75% titanium and 25% gold.

The alloy has proven to be particularly resistant, over 4 times the pure titanium and 3-4 times the steel.

If, as official sources attest, the Iron man suit weighs about 100 kg, this gives us about 7 mm thick armor, very little for the appearance it shows: we must, however, imagine that the superhero suit is not composed only of a single plate that surrounds the body of tony stark, but contains joints as well as numerous compartments for the circuitry, the various weapons, thrusters, fuel and so on. The calculation could, therefore, prove to be correct.

Moving around with a ton of armor is a significant challenge: historically, the heaviest armor appeared only as complete cavalry armor in the 1600s, when it was necessary to protect the knight from the first firearms (or at least try).
It was armor which, unlike the complete infantry armor (which still stands at 30kg), did not allow for ample mobility: the Iron Man armor, however, while weighing much more, allows Tony Stark to move with extreme agility.

How does Iron Man movie?

This can only be due to an apparatus of systems that assist movement: these apparatuses today find their embodiment in electric motors and artificial pneumatic muscles.

Electric motors

Electric motors can rotate two objects together: for example, in electric cars, they rotate the wheels relative to the rest of the machine.

There are numerous types of electric motors, but they all share a similar function: a portion of the motor traversed by an electric current is set in motion by the interaction with a magnetic field. For this type of motor to work, the influence of the magnetic field on the electric current must vary over time and different motor models exploit different arrangements to obtain this phenomenon, often going to vary the direction of the current flowing in the mobile portion of the motor.

The Artificial Pneumatic Musks

The Artificial Pneumatic Muscles, on the other hand, are made up of bags filled with air or liquid that can be compressed or extended, going to provide a push similar to a muscle.

Both of these tools are already in use for modern civil exoskeletons, especially in the industrial sector: these are devices that are worn to provide additional artificial structures that help or replace the natural ones of man.

An example is the Guardian XO, an exoskeleton that allows, using electric motors and artificial pneumatic muscles, to lift loads as if they were 20 times less heavy, allowing, for example, to move heavy objects a quintal as if they had a mass of just 5 kg.

Technological limits

However, the existence of these exoskeletons is far from reaching the heights of our superhero’s armor: a significant problem that exoskeletons are facing today, especially in the military, is the power supply and the possibility of carrying an energy source. Tony stark “solves” the problem with his small Arc Reactor that he holds in his chest, preventing (at least originally) metal splinters from reaching his heart due to the electromagnetic attraction of the reactor itself.
Already in the first model, this reactor is capable of emitting a frightening amount of energy: 3 Gigajoules per second, the equivalent of 5 nuclear power plants!

In an almost ironic way, in 2014, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (the famous MIT) theorized a compact form of fusion reactor calling it its ARC: it is one of the numerous nuclear fusion experiments underway for decades, so far incomplete but which, if they were to work, they would lead to large quantities of available energy and very low pollution levels.

The ARC reactor: how it works

But how does a nuclear fusion reactor like the ARC reactor work?

The discovery of the cleavage of heavier atomic nuclei, such as uranium, which led to the introduction of both military technologies, such as the atomic bomb, and civilian ones, such as nuclear power plants, is well known: in both cases, a large amount of energy is obtained by breaking atomic nuclei to produce many lighter nuclei. However, this technology is accompanied by a very serious problem: the vast majority of the products of this reaction are the so-called nuclear waste, radioactive and dangerous materials for humans that require millennia to lose their radioactive charge and that have no uses. concrete.

However, there is also a further type of reaction, that of nuclear fusion, which instead starts from lighter elements by fusing them to produce heavier nuclei: the best-known example is one of the main reactions that feed the stars, the so-called “proton cycle -proton “, which produces helium atoms starting from hydrogen ones. Both of these gases are harmless to the environment and humans and it would be possible to obtain a lot of hydrogen, for example, from the splitting of seawater: the main problem with this type of reaction is that they require temperatures and magnetic containment fields extremely intense, difficult to reproduce on Earth, and even the current working prototypes are unable to feed themselves, that is, to maintain for a long time a chain of reactions that allows the plant to continue working.

All this energy would be very useful for our superhero, as lifting a human being in flight is not exactly a walk: where in fact planes and helicopters use specific characteristics of the air, lift and viscosity, to obtain an upward thrust able to keep the vehicle in flight, a suit like that of Iron Man must rely only on the thrust of the thrusters. To have a reference on the quantities involved, we can only look at the Daedalus Flight Pack, the invention of Gravity Industries by the American Richard Browning.

It is a suit weighing over 140 kg (to envy even Iron Man!), Driven by six thrusters, two of which are mainly on the back and four distributed in pairs on the arms: this allows the pilot to organize better the thrust deriving from the jets, and it is a more practical choice than that of the Marvel superhero, who places the thrusters on the feet instead of on the back because the latter configuration makes it much more difficult to manage the total balance of Iron Man compared to a thruster leaning on the back, which is instead much closer to the man’s center of gravity and therefore less inclined to make unexpected thrusts and rotations.

This truly existing suit releases a power of over 1000 horses (horsepower), equal to about 745 kilowatts, but has an autonomy of just 8 minutes: all this power is absorbed by the six injection turbines, similar to those of aircraft, which they provide the driver with a boost.

The operation of an engine

But how does an engine work? The air in front of the engine is sucked by the turbine blades and reaches the combustion chamber, where it undergoes violent heating (in this case, from the combustion of fuel, kerosene).

The warmer air carries more energy, is “faster”, and the flow pushes it towards the rear nozzle, giving the blades a further push and being conveyed to exit the engine.

It is precisely the summed effect of all the air particles emitted by the nozzle that provides the thrust: the speed of the medium and that of the exhaust gases are in fact in a proportion opposite to that of their masses. The higher the speed and the number of gases released, the greater the thrust: in the same way, lightening the load will result in higher vehicle speed.

Undergoing a force opposite to that exerted by the engine on the expelled gas is a direct consequence of Newton’s third principle of dynamics, the principle of “action and reaction”, from which the name “jet engine” derives.

Ionic motors: the choice of Iron Man

However, Iron Man’s repulsor spokes do not seem to be classic turbine engines, but rather ionic engines: this type of engine provides a thrust similarly to classic jet engines, i.e. obtained due to the expulsion of fast material in the opposite direction, but this time what is emitted by the engine is not air heated by combustion, but charged particles.

The ions, which give the name to this motor, are in fact atoms whose electric charge is not, as normally, neutral, but to which electrons have been subtracted (or more rarely added) and which therefore appear to no longer have the original balance between the positive charge of the nucleus protons and the negative charge of the electrons. This imbalance of electric charge leads the ions to undergo the accelerating effect of the electric fields: in the ionic engine, a certain quantity of these particles is electromagnetically accelerated and subsequently expelled by the repulsor, generating this time also a thrust.

However, these engines are not as powerful and are often used only in the space sector, where the engine is not forced to combat air friction and, in part, gravity, and in any case used only for small maneuvers.

The weapons of Iron Man

In addition to the role of real thrusters, those of Iron Man behave like real weapons, which appear in Iron Man VR both through the normal repulsors and through the Unibeam, a powerful phase of energy that starts directly from the ARC reactor. But how could these thrusters and their weapons work? One hypothesis in this regard is that they emit ionized plasma.

Plasma is a state of matter in which a gas receives so much energy (usually bringing it to extremely high temperatures) that the electrons are free to move from their original atoms: this condition, used for example in the experimental fusion reactors already mentioned above, easily allows to separate the electrons from the rest of the substance, thus leaving only the atomic nuclei, in fact, perfections for the ionic engine.

The controlled emission of this plasma would prove to be a remarkable weapon, being able to leverage both the temperature of the plasma and the thrust of the ionic engine: instead, it would be more difficult to keep all this ionized and extremely hot gas safe.

The repulsors and the Unibeam, however, Iron Man VR joins a long series of other weapons: automatic machine guns, missiles, bullets, and intelligent bombs will allow you to fight the bad guys helped by the ubiquitous Jarvis. Where, historically, many of the “tracking” missiles operated via thermal sensors, chasing heat sources (basically those of jet engines) and therefore relatively easy to deflect through the so-called “countermeasures”, those of Iron Man are based on the visual recognition of artificial intelligence, already commonly used today for facial recognition that allows you to unlock our devices, up to real driving systems such as that of Google Car.

The interface of the suit, then, recalls the current augmented reality prototypes, enhanced by the artificial intelligence Jarvis that provides you with all the useful information on the screen.

The result, therefore, is that of an extremely immersive experience, in which the virtual reality viewer and the knobs immerse themselves perfectly in the simulated environment as the mask and gloves of our superhero, genius, billionaire, playboy and favorite philanthropist, with a unique sensation of flying armor that will allow you to relive the history of Iron Man, like never before.