How to build your own Iron Man suit — for real

Now that Iron Man is here, it got us to thinking: Could we build our own Iron Man suit? Not just a costume, but a functioning apparatus that could perform the miracles the spectacular marvel in the movie does? Well, not really. We'll have to pass on antigravity tech and jets blowing out the bottoms of our feet that are hot enough to roast our tootsies like marshmallows — never mind that the suit clearly breaks the first law of thermodynamics, creating energy for free.

But still, we could come close to a few of the feats of the Man of Iron. Suspend your disbelief, and follow along with the real-world corollaries to the wizardry of Tony Stark, billionaire industrialist and genius inventor, also known as Iron Man.


Before we start building our own Iron Man suit, let's first benefit from the experience from those who have tried this in the past. In 1965, GE (disclosure: our parent company, bless 'em) was the first to try creating an exoskeleton for humans. But the first iteration went berserk — kicking, bucking and gyrating so much, they never chanced it with a human inside. The project was scaled down to an arm that would be able to lift 750 pounds, enough to load up a bomb onto a plane on an aircraft carrier. Big problem, though: The arm itself weighed 1,500 pounds, far beyond anyone's capacity to handle it. The idea was scrapped.

Robot Suit HAL
Yes, we geeks feel meek compared to Iron Man, but now we can gain a modicum of superhuman strength from Robot Suit HAL, Cyberdyne's answer to the plethora of exoskeleton-style strength suits under development. The company's gearing up to create 400 to 500 of the strength suits starting this October, so save up your $1,000 and you can rent the outfit for a month. Making you two to ten times stronger, the company says it operates for five hours on a battery charge. This we're going to have to try.

Rocket Belt
You've seen it flying in James Bond movies and at the Olympics years ago, but the rocket belt is still around. This one, made by TAM, costs $125,000 and can even accommodate 300-pounders. Using hydrogen peroxide as a propellant, there's actually no combustion taking place at all — instead of Iron Man's flames spewing out of his shoes, there's a harmless plume of oxygen and water vapor hissing out the rocket pack's nozzle. Too bad it only flies for 20 seconds.

Once you've thrust yourself to altitude with that Rocket Belt, it's time to start soaring on your own, ready to take on those fighter jets. Well, it's not going to be that sophisticated, but it's a start. Those adversaries will no doubt be taken aback when they see you soaring around like a flying squirrel. This isn't a powered flight, but the footage shot by this guy while flying in his special suit reminds us of Iron Man's feats of daring do. The wingsuit is pretty much reserved for skydivers and daredevils, as evidenced by the way this guy heads straight for the sharp mountain peaks in this video. Amazing.

Heads-up display
Put on a Bluetooth headset for your cellphone as you wear this Sportvue MC2 helmet, and you'll have a rough approximation of Iron Man's heads-up display. This one' s made for motorcycles, showing your speed, RPM and gear, but surely it could be adapted for flying, fending off bad guys and saving the world from evildoers.

Repulsor Rays
OK, to do what Iron Man does with those repulsor rays would take the total output of a nuclear power plant, so let's settle for the effect of sparks coming from our fingers. Or let's have you do it, and we'll watch. The guy in the picture above goofs around with Tesla coils, making sparks fly at will. He even does one crazy trick involving himself standing in a swimming pool. On second thought, our Iron Man can do without such hijinks.