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How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting 
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Post How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
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I like mecha. I like Gundams and Exo Suits, and Imperial Walkers. I like Voltron and Zords and Mechagodzilla. I like landmates and Labors.

But its usually a good sign some of the physics may not be all that good.

So how to make mecha work. and since I know this will be long winded, I will have some pretty pretty pictures. Also would like your thoughts on this and how to make this work. Also at what point should we go: screw it, I'm sending in the Megazord anyways.

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First off, the origins for them would have to be something in the labor industry like construction and logging. This has been the origins in the original Gundam with the Balls, this was a plot point of Patlabor, and a background detail in the Armored core series.

We can see something like this with the walker that Riply pilots in Aliens both to help the Marines load their craft and later on fight the Alien Queen. You can even see something like this in the first season of the old cartoon Gargoyles as the castle is being shipped piece by piece from scotland to Manhattan.

This has some real world precedence as well. The tank as we know it came from the idea of weaponizing the then new caterpillar tractors farmers were using. What are most mechs but walking tanks.

There is even some real word application of this, with John Deer having a sex legged walker for the logging industry called the timber jack.

http://www.theoldrobots.com/Walking-Robot2.html

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The development for this was simple: Not all logging machines work in all terrain, and the six legs of this walker can adjust more easily in difficult terrain.

THe next one is it would have to be on the small scale. If something like a Leo from Gundam Wing or a Vtol FIghter were to go from standing to fall fifty feet to the ground, the pilot might not make it. However something that maybe ten or twenty feet tall might also be plausable. This is more landmate size in Appleseed.

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Or the Police Labor of Patlabor

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Or an exo suit
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There would also be restrictions on speeds as well they move like a human being but they are still tanks, and most of them are not known for their speed. Also a simple jog might damage something. If nothing else we are talking more like Mech Warior than we are Macross Plus.


The next question is to WHY would we need one of these in war. In the case of fiction writers, what's your excuse for having them other than big robots are awesome and I want my own Goof Custom...yes, I am projecting.

In the case of Imperial walkers, armored scouts and transports, which a drop ship would be faster and potentially better.

Shock and aw, on the other hand, always good. Every infantryman fears a tank and the ones that do not have anti armor weapons. THey can also hold heavier, more powerful weapons. While best in open feilds, they could still smash through a house or wall, or even blow a sniper nest to kingdom come. A mech might be just as comfortable in a mobile in a city, where ic can cause havoc, but maybe more so in the open field.

Its essentially the point of power armor in most fiction: armored like a tank, and able to carry heavy weapons from destruction or squad asist.

Are there problems with this, I can can see a few.

First off, what needs in a modern battlefield (either today or Outsider's setting) that present tech is not already done adequately or better.

Second, the coast. Most military vehicles are already multi million dollar machines to build and maintain. Plus the millions if not billions to develop. While this has been used to great effect (Stealth Bombers, the F22 Raptors, the GPS, even the building blocks for the internet), the coast benefits would need to be analyzed.

Finally, physics. Would it be able to move at all at that weight needed to be an effective war machine (initial weight plus weapons, ammo, and armor), or move in a way that wouldn't make it a big target.

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Thoughts and suggestions?


Sat Dec 21, 2019 10:58 pm
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
First and foremost, the square-cube law and (current) material strength limits the size of any prospective mech. Could we reasonably have powered armor? Yeah, I think so. Tank-mass mechs? Only if the benefits outweighed the added cost and complexity. Otherwise, the concept would not be viable for military use.

The other limiting factor is airpower. Battleships went the way of the dodo after the advent of naval aviation, and the same goes for supertanks. The greatest tank in the world can be plinked by an aircraft with impunity. Complex and expensive mechs would need to operate under an umbrella of air superiority and if they come with air assets that can provide that... why not just use those assets to also take out ground targets? Yes, there are ground assets that are difficult for airpower to target, but you don't need mechs to go after them.

Without significant changes in technology that would blunt the current advantages of airpower, I don't see the military necessity to develop mechs.

Now flying mechs... are stupid because that's not how aerodynamics works. But, if you had something like the Valkyrie from Macross which could transform and essentially be its own airpower... that might work. You'd need much better power generation and energy weapons because an aircraft is not going to carry enough mass to carry on a protracted fight on the ground (you can measure ammo supplies in seconds, and modern fighters only carry around six missiles), but I think the theory is sound. To my mind, the idea would be that a squadron of transforming mechs would fight their way into contested airspace then split up. Half would form a combat air patrol over the target to provide cover and the rest would commence a bombing run. After dropping bombs, they'd transform and mop up whatever else needed mopping up on the ground with their combat forms before transforming again to egress.

The downside though... if we have the technology to do all that, those mechs will almost assuredly be remotely operated. Quite simply, a combat frame of any sort can take more Gs without a pilot... anything operating with a pilot will be at a significant disadvantage.

BL... no orphan kid is going to be falling into the cockpit of a legendary mech anytime soon.


Sun Dec 22, 2019 5:12 am
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
Summing, there are very good reasons Military still use flat box machines with treads.


Sun Dec 22, 2019 5:18 am
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
The basic problem that you have to solve is to explain in a plausible manner why a humanoid form for your vehicle is a distinct advantage that would justify the added cost and complexity over a more simple form. Whether the materials science is up to the structural task of holding together such a vehicle can be hand-waved to ultra-tech (which is no more implausible than dozens of other standard science fiction tropes), but what's not so easy to ignore is why you would need vehicles to be shaped like people in the first place. The primary justification for humanoid robots (which is not a very good one) is that they operate in environments designed for the human form, but when you scale things up to the size of an armored vehicle, that's no longer true.

Current tanks do their job very well, so to justify a humanoid tank you'd need to invent some kind of environment in which legs would be a distinct advantage, and the height of a mech wouldn't be a disadvantage. Perhaps some kind of environment with incredibly rough terrain, but in which you can't fly for some reason, and in which visibility range is very low. The problem here is that the optimal legged vehicle would probably have four or six legs; bipedal forms are actually not very good over rough terrain; human bipedalism is optimized for efficient long-distance movement on flat terrain, something which wheeled vehicles are much better at. A four- or six-legged mech would at least be lower to the ground and not quite as easy a target as a standing bipedal mech.

I really can't think of any use cases that would justify a humanoid tank. There are no advantages and tons of disadvantages. Human-sized powered armor might make sense if you could somehow make it work, but I don't see, short of magic-level ultra-tech, how you can engineer a human-sized powered exoskeleton that can move well enough to fight effectively without shredding its human occupant. Especially when with scifi-tech information science you could so much more easily engineer an autonomous or remote-controlled armored robot to fill the same role.

For non-military tasks, again you need to have a use case that justifies the added complexity. Ripley's power loader is a laughable example: there's nothing it can do that a regular wheeled forklift couldn't do just as well (except, of course, fight alien queens); a starship hangar is hardly a rough terrain environment, and even if it were, you can see that the power loader is so clumsy that it couldn't handle rough terrain anyway.

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Sun Dec 22, 2019 9:57 am
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
What about environments that are too hostile for ordinary infantry? Like bottom of the ocean or on other planets. A vehicle close to the human form, which is more versatile could have value there. Especially if it also has civilian applications like construction or mining.


Sun Dec 22, 2019 10:16 am
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
I think the issue is that if you had the technology to make powered armor work.. there are WAY more efficient ways to use it rather than an humanoid armored tank.

Personally, I think enhancing light exoskeletons are more likely if one can get over the power supply issue ..as currently the more power your exoskeleton requires the heavier it is and the less maneuverable your entire exo becomes. The reasons for a personal powered enhancing-exosuit might be to allow a single footman solider to carry heavier weapons and armor and move faster over terrain... if those are not possible, powered armor is not really worth it.

Though Yeah I'd love to get it a gundamn and raise some serious havoc with Particle Beam Sabers and Remote Attack Bits.. heh!

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Sun Dec 22, 2019 10:42 am
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
Yes - there is a "cool factor" with walking tanks - otherwise Japanese Anime would be far less fun/varied and we would never have had "Battletech" (and other such fun games).

Practical? Absolutely not - under any realistic conditions.


Sun Dec 22, 2019 11:48 am
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
Maybe - maybe! You could make a case for large construction mechs in low / micro gravity environments. That would help on the square-cube law by reducing structural loads a bit. Non-combat operations would also mean that the armour is only rated for micrometeorites and tools dropped a few orbits ago by the new guy. Rather than outright anti-armour munitions.

It's a little sad, but I think they aren't practical in military situations. The exposed area to internal volumes (i.e. square cube law) isn't a good start.

Any power-armour style equipment would, I think, be more about augmentation. We are seeing some appliances right now for factory workers to reduce fatigue (e.g. Ford, no idea what the reality to hype ratio is).

If you want to go for the ace-custom approach, you could have like 2 mini-mechas made out of prototype solid-money super-tech which get borrowed for very specific work. Maybe missions like this:

You have prepared and executed an ambush at great expense* and now believe that the MacGuffin lies within your grasp. Unfortunately, it's on that Umiak / Loroi / Historian vessel over there, which is so radioactive it's glowing in the dark. Remote control signals won't reliably penetrate the vessel, and you only have a couple of hours before the oncoming long-range missile fire from their support auxiliaries will saturate this area. Fortunately, you have the Mk I and Mk II prototype hazmat power suits, all the quantum-enhanced lead-ubomtanium allouy :geek: ever made for radiation shielding, and a couple of post-graduate mechanical engineering students who will do anything for free food and a shot at a full-time tenure track position back home.

*I think nukes would only be effective against a Umiak or Loroi vessel if you detonated them right on top of the target, at which point you would dust it with fission products and neutron-activate a lot of structure. Getting a nuke right on top of the target is left as an exercise for the reader :D.


Sun Dec 22, 2019 12:30 pm
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
There is a lot of places where you simply cant go with a tank, i can seehumanoid mecha with APC like combat capabilities in the mountain regions or in the half frozen swamps of far north.
Humanoid form have advantages like size and agility, 4 and more legs in my opinion is pointless because it puts mecha in form factor where it simply dont have any advantages over standard vehicles.
So, practically just bigger power armor.


Sun Dec 22, 2019 2:40 pm
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
We already do mining and drilling at the bottom of the ocean - By using ships with drilling strings a few km long, going down as deep as is necessary. Back in the late 1970s when offshore drilling was only just developing, it was speculated that in order to drill on the seabed, huge habitats would be constructed. They would be manned by teams of hundreds of divers, running drilling equipment underwater. What did we do instead? We did it remotely.

I regularly work with oil and gas drilling that goes on in deepwater (several km down), and we use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Are they human-shaped? Quite the opposite? Great care is taken to make the ROVs box-shaped, and design equipment with openings large enough for box-shaped ROVs to pass through. Humans are a really awkward shape - Why design anything human-shaped when a box is so much easier?

Increasingly, the roles of ROVs is being supplanted by AUVs - Autonomously-operated vehicles. They do jobs automatically without requiring human pilots. Similarly in the military, more and more tasks are being done by drones. They don't necessarily require a radio signal base to a ground base or satellite in order to operate, and are clever enough to know how to get home if things or wrong and circumstances change.

You're going to have a REALLY good reason for designing something human-shaped rather than box-shaped. A hostile environment isn't it.

L.


Sun Dec 22, 2019 4:18 pm
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
Zorg56 wrote:
There is a lot of places where you simply cant go with a tank, i can seehumanoid mecha with APC like combat capabilities in the mountain regions or in the half frozen swamps of far north.


Ground pressure is your problem in that case. See, tracked vehicles do pretty good on snow or swampy ground, but tanks are simply too heavy for that, due to the mass of their armor.
A lighter APC, with thin armor (to reduce mass) and wide tracks (to spread that mass over a wider area) does the trick (and adding amphibious capability to it is both easier and pretty useful).

For actual APC designed for such work, look at the old Soviet MT-LB.
For some extreme mobility designs (later variants were even lightly armored, and carried heavy machine guns IIRC, early ones were basically soft-skin transports) look at the Bandvagn 202 and its successor, Bv 206 (and several similar vehicles).

Now, a legged design isn't going to be able to spread its weight over a large area of a track like a tracked vehicle does (perhaps, if you make it with ridiculously huge feet...?). And the less legs it has, the less of these are going to be in contact with the ground when moving.


If we are going to see "mecha" in real life, I guess a "power armor"- type is more likely. There were a number of attempts to create an exoskeleton that would allow a soldier to carry more stuff (because they do carry hell of a lot of stuff), tire less, and be more mobile under tat load (also, less prone to injury due to that load and rapid movement). A few years ago I've heard a couple of prototypes were sent for field testing - but I'm not aware of the results. guess the technology wasn't mature enough. Yet.
Once we have the exoskeleton that works good enough, it doesn't take a genius to use its increased carrying capacity for more armor than an unassisted human could realistically carry (the major problem with modern body armor, as far as I know, is that it gets too heavy to be practical to wear for any extended period of time if it has to protect against more substantial calibers). We could add heavier (and longer ranged / better quality) sensors, communications equipment, ammunition, tools & mission-related load. Of course, we'd have to deal with the problem of fuelling our power-armor, especially for extended operations. For it is going to need a lot of energy, and probably in some complicated form, making it highly dependant on a high-tech supply chain.

Compare it to the ladder:
- a horse can live off the land (grazing. Not very effective method of feeding it for military purposes, as it takes a long time - but it works everywhere with suitable vegetation)
- an internal combustion engine-powered vehicle could (many military vehicles are built with that in mind - use multifuel engines), perhaps, run on diesel fuel / gasoline / spirit / vegetable oil (and a number of other substances) you were able to scavenge / take as spoils of war. Fuel efficiency would be terrible (as would be performance), the engine would be prone to malfunction, and it would likely wear down much quicker than you'd like it to. But these fuels give you a chance of getting ahold of something you could pour into your fuel tank.
- a battery-powered power armor needs high-output batteries of exactly the same specification. No such batteries = no power armor operation.

All in all, one of the questions I've seen here was "why a mecha? What for?" And my answer is - a power armor can make it basically anywhere a human trooper could (of course, ground pressure is still going to be a problem. But not as much with a few hundred kilogram power armor as with a multi-ton walking tank) - yet carrying more protection, more supplies (ammunition), better sensors and more tools / mission load than the trooper in question. In an urban terrain, I'd say it is an advantage.
Make it much bigger, and suddenly it no longer fits into those tight spaces - and IMO, stops making sense.


Mon Dec 23, 2019 12:52 am
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
Arioch wrote:
Perhaps some kind of environment with incredibly rough terrain, but in which you can't fly for some reason, and in which visibility range is very low.

Modern city streets? Collapsed buildings made streets impassible for most wheeled transport. The buildings make partial protection from aircrafts. And if both sides has heavy anti-air systems, they can effectively mutually block aviation.

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Mon Dec 23, 2019 1:47 am
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
SVlad wrote:
Arioch wrote:
Perhaps some kind of environment with incredibly rough terrain, but in which you can't fly for some reason, and in which visibility range is very low.

Modern city streets? Collapsed buildings made streets impassible for most wheeled transport. The buildings make partial protection from aircrafts. And if both sides has heavy anti-air systems, they can effectively mutually block aviation.


Wide tracked vehicle with low center of gravity would be better suited than two legged mech traveling on unstable rubble in city.

The only reasons I see for using mech/humanoid type walkers are view from above which gives driver some advantage and MAINLY psychological effect on the battlefield especially mechs designed to look terrifying for ordinary man. Image large humanoid covered in dust/mud emerging from dust/smoke screen creating walker sound (f.e AT-AS).


Mon Dec 23, 2019 2:09 am
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
A weaponized Timberjack like shown above is probably the closest to manned military mechs we will see at our current level of physics and materials science. And even then only as a very specialized niche weapon or tools platform since it is going to be slower than a traditional wheeled or tracked vehicle, and less maneuverable than say infantry in power armor.

Other than extremely heavy weapons or tools anything it can do could also probably be done better and safer with a low altitude flying drone weapon platform.

Keep in mind an ECM strong enough to block remote drone control (And making them autonomous past a certain point is how you get Skynet!) is also going to block comms for a mech pilot. And a unit in the field without comms often is a dead unit.


Mon Dec 23, 2019 4:12 am
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
Beliskner wrote:
SVlad wrote:

Wide tracked vehicle with low center of gravity would be better suited than two legged mech traveling on unstable rubble in city.

The only reasons I see for using mech/humanoid type walkers are view from above which gives driver some advantage and MAINLY psychological effect on the battlefield especially mechs designed to look terrifying for ordinary man. Image large humanoid covered in dust/mud emerging from dust/smoke screen creating walker sound (f.e AT-AS).


I think a millipede style locomotion would suit It better.


Mon Dec 23, 2019 4:35 am
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
Humans have tales of fighting monsters for a reason, these larger than life creatures, gods, and demons that seem so overpowering. Rarly can oone say they fought one. The first sailors to see a while or a great white shark. The Roman's fighting Hanibl's forces seeing an elephant for the first time. Hunters today finding a wild hog the size of a pickup truck. Its something we do not expect, and wonder if we could ever match it.

I can see a machine to do likewise.


In the modern sense, its shock and aw. We see this with modified passenger ships turned into bullet and bomb dropping monsters, or even weapons like MOABs. THe point is to cause equal amounts of psychological damage as physical. Heck, its the reason the plains attacking Great Britain in WW2 had that signature scream when they dived.

Power armor might be an idea, bridging the points between armored cavalry and infantry. Even then I would see this as a small elite for a while. Even in settings where mechs are commonplace, conventional vehicles are still around.

This said, a suit like a the Power Armor of a Spartan or what is used in the Starship Troopers novel might be good in space, traveling ship to ship and then taking an enemy ship.

Another would be to maneuver around tight areas in ways tanks or helicopters still can't. This I could see for humans, especially if they want to take a city as intact as possible.


Tue Dec 24, 2019 1:47 am
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
Theres only two practical reasons to have "mecha suits".
One as a quite literal suit of armour worn by basic infantry.
The second and possibly less viable is a "tall" tank for height advantage only. And unless there is some sudden insane tech development that allows such a vehicle to survive getting shot at, then this is a really stupid idea. Tanks are low to the ground for a reason, that reason being it makes them harder to hit for other ground based opponents.

Aside from some advanced infantry armours, we're unlikely to see the cliche battle bots and mecha suits of anime fame... ever.


Tue Dec 24, 2019 10:17 am
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
If you did for some reason have to make a bipedal tank, the optimal shape might be something like a theropod dinosaur, with the main body parallel to the ground rather than upright, so that it could stay as low to the ground as possible. It's a body plan that does scale (as demonstrated by T.Rex), but I think you'd still have ground pressure problems even with enlarged feet; a T.Rex weighed perhaps 15 tons, but a modern tank can weigh more than 50 tons.

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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
^ And that's where the materials used would be critical. Whatever "handwavium" is used to build a "Mech" would have to be very strong, tough and very light.

If you have something like that - why not just build a better tank from it instead? Unless you have to fight in a swamp, or mountains - there's just no need for a Mech.


Tue Dec 24, 2019 2:01 pm
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
And if it has to be so light, at this tech level you can probably make it hover, which would be much preferable.

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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
Why do mechs have to do what tanks do? If you have a semi realistic setting, use mechs as armored platforms that can work even closer with infantry. If they can approximate a human range of movement, they can be mobile firepower that's impervious to small arms, which can nevertheless go anywhere infantry can.


Tue Dec 24, 2019 2:43 pm
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
Werra wrote:
Why do mechs have to do what tanks do? If you have a semi realistic setting, use mechs as armored platforms that can work even closer with infantry. If they can approximate a human range of movement, they can be mobile firepower that's impervious to small arms, which can nevertheless go anywhere infantry can.

If it's a human-sized robot, fine... but I think SaintofM is talking about piloted vehicles.

Even if it's a human-sized support robot, though, I still don't see any advantage to it being human-shaped. I think a tracked platform like the SHIV in XCOM, or maybe a doglike quadruped like Boston Dynamics' Spot would probably be more practical.

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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
In the Dream Pod 9 Game using the Silhouette system ~ Heavy Gear, the mech are about 10 to 15'ft tall, the pilot sits in the chest area... and they are used in desert fighting mostly {the world is mostly desert dunes}.. or trudging through jungles. They run on internal combustion 'V-Block' Engines... like the old rotary B-planes to make the engines more vertical and they sit on the back of the humanoid mecha.

They are Not as heavily armored as a Tank.. but carry light to heavy autocannons which could indeed kill a tank...and they are all terrain..effectively.

Its the best depiction of mecha in a realistic way that I have seen. The Mecha in AVATAR...are Very similar to the mechs in Heavy gear.

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Tue Dec 24, 2019 3:44 pm
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
I think mechs, in a looser sense of the word, become impractical as soon as they're too big to fit through a shipboard hatch or an average doorway in a house. At that point, a wheeled, tracked or flying vehicle can do more than a walking mech of similar dimensions. Powered armor that could fit, though, is another story. There's a reason DARPA has been throwing billions of dollars at contractors to try and develop some.

The LS3 (militarized version of Spot mentioned above) was tested by the Marine Corps but found to be way too noisy for field use. They also stated it had difficulty navigating certain types of terrain, but I'd bet that improved software or design changes to the legs could solve that particular problem. The noise is an unavoidable problem if you have to stick a combustion engine on it, though. I seem to recall that they created an electric-only model that was pretty quiet, but it had laughably low weight capacity and endurance. The trouble here is that if you solve the power source problem for this robot, you've likely also solved it for powered armor. And at that point, you'd just be better off putting the weight on one of the soldiers wearing said armor.

I'm curious to know what would happen if a defense contractor decided to throw minor scruples like 'operator safety' and 'nuclear proliferation' out the window and miniaturized a fast fission reactor as much as they possibly could. Could they get small enough to fit on a set of powered armor? The most useful isotopes of uranium, thorium and plutonium have energy densities vastly exceeding (by many orders of magnitude) that of any chemical fuel, much less any electrical storage medium that has been developed.

I'm also curious to know if you could use an RTG or SRG to power a suit of said armor. Given that these are already available, though, I suspect that various defense contractors have already crunched the numbers on those and figured they weren't good enough.


Tue Dec 24, 2019 10:24 pm
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Post Re: How to Make Mecha Work in a realish setting
Quote:
I'm curious to know what would happen if a defense contractor decided to throw minor scruples like 'operator safety' and 'nuclear proliferation' out the window and miniaturized a fast fission reactor as much as they possibly could. Could they get small enough to fit on a set of powered armor?


I doubt they can get more power even if they neglect all safety procedures. The amount of equipment needed to make it work for your suggested reactor type is still considerable and can't be miniaturized noticeably with currently available materials.
You may shrink reactor part but how small can you get heat exchanger, steam generator, coolant and power systems to make it man portable (30-50kg)?
Using it to power powered armor will add extra kg which will significantly add on needed W count.
If even you manage to make it smaller power output will suffer considerably. Currently we may build something that can fit on truck trailer but that doesn't fit your question.

The simplest design follows power inefficiency as seen in RTGs https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-mission_radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator giving measly 125W for 45kg resulting with 2.8W/kg. I know this is completely different type of reactor from one you proposed but this is example of smallest and simplest working reactor.
Even if we neglect all safeties for something that small with current materials we won't get better power output. We simply lack more efficient ways to convert that heat into electricity.
Having hot tube with fissionable fuel inside surrounded with thermocouples cooled from outside to make temperature difference as big as possible won't get many Watts.


Wed Dec 25, 2019 12:16 am
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