Why No Real Mecha (Big Robots)?
#1
The mecha trope has been a staple in science-fiction for a long time now.

Would it be possible to create a Big Robot in real life?

Let's take a look at video games, fiction and movies, based on 3 examples:

- Pacific Rim movie - the first part. In Pacific Rim military forces created several Big Robots to fight Big Monsters aka Kaiju. The details on how those robots were built were mostly left for the audience to speculate about, we just know that the main Big Robot "Gypsy Danger" was powered by an atomic reactor which came handy in one moment.

- Future Cop LAPD - an old Playstation 1 game. In this game the player assumes control of X1-Alpha, a police vehicle that can transform between two "modes" - a fast moving hovering vehicle and a mobile combat mech, both of those forms having full combat arsenal at their disposal. In the game the vehicle is more mobile when it comes to speed, though not as precise to control as the combat mech. The vehicle is used to fight crime in a futuristic Los Angeles setting.

- BattleTech universe - a role-playing & a wargame with quite a long history behind it. In the BattleTech universe humanity expanded throughout the stars, got divided into clans, houses and other groups that were waging wars with each other with the usage of the powerful BattleMechs, piloted by humans. Sometimes it were even more reasonable to try to eliminate the enemy's pilot and take over the mech than to destroy the mech.

On the side note - Artificial Intelligence in that universe is mostly non-existent, save for some early agricultural, mining, construction and such robots and a few mentions of androids.

Big Robots honorable mentions in fiction works:
- the Transformers franchise
- Power Rangers's MegaZord
- Hunter Killers & Harvesters from the Terminator franchise
- basically any robot from the mecha anime genre
- Front Mission franchise Wanzers
- ED-209 from the Robocop movie
- AT-STs and AT-ATs from Star Wars

Now would it be possible to build a human-operated Big Robot? What factors need to be considered:
- power source
- heat management
- electronic parts
- mass vs mobility - how mobile can a hulking, walking tank be?
- resources needed to build such a robot
- security issues - amongt others -  what if the robot would be hacked, what if the pilot went rogue?
- how much would it actually cost?
- and many, many other factors

Big Robots are fun and entertaining to watch, play on a war game board, and operate within a video game. They inspire lots of Science Fiction writers, yet prove to be hard to tackle in the Hard Sci-Fi genre.

Who knows, maybe we will live to see a Big Robot one day?

SUBMITTED BY: Maciek Jarosz (contact, Tony McCaffrey at tony@sci2scifi.com to get word to Maciek)
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#2
I think the mass of such a device would work against it. We don't have materials capable of tolerating those stresses, assuming we'd want to replicate the speeds attributed to the fictional mecha-robots.

We do have giant moving machines, but I believe they all rely on wheeled or continuous track movements. Those mechanisms allow us to construct moving machines out of very heavy metals (primarily iron/steel).

So maybe some kind of material based on carbon fiber technology might make these kinds of machines more achievable.
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#3
Yes, we would definitely need lighter and stronger materials to make mecha real. But they are fun to imagine Smile
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#4
Of course, now that I think about it, swarm theory might give us a way to produce these giant mechaniks. Some movies have even integrated that idea into their themes (like the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, starring Keanu Reeves).

For example, we now have crude drones that can work together in small groups. Imagine thousands or hundreds of thousands of drones swarming together in a massive, complex configuration.

If they could use some sort of energy-based propulsion (rather than the mechanical propulsion created by propellers that existing drones use), then why couldn't they swarm together, bond together, and compensate for their heavy mass with their own propulsion systems?

That's sort of what the movie swarms imply (perhaps unintentionally). The problem is where the individual units would get their energy from. They might be able to harness solar energy or ambient electrical energy and share it with each other through their bonding process.

But I imagine the power requirements for such mega machines would ultimately be their undoing. They'd have limited lifespans before the components needed to separate and recharge.
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#5
I don't really see many benefits of creating mecha. But, my students are very interested in them and think they are so cool.
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#6
On a planet with the mass and gravity of Earth, I doubt there will ever be a practical use for such devices.

But what about in space? Maybe they could harvest raw materials from asteroids and take them back to space habitats for processing?
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#7
That sounds right to me.
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#8
Mecha in outer space harvesting materials?

That sounds quite fresh, sure.

When it comes to big constructions what comes to my mind is "Schwerer Gustav", the big German artillery gun on rails. As far as I'm concerned it can be considered a very early & primitive mech.

And about mecha such as those found in the BattleTech/MechWarrior fiction... I'm not so sure. Gravity is a pretty harsh force to deal with after all, and we'd also need to concern all the heat generation, propulsion, electricity requirements. And also, costs.

When it comes to that I do think that the most possible "mecha" that we can get is something akin to those Iron Man suits from Marvel Movies, so a human-operated exoskeleton suit that's fitted for specialist jobs, not unlike the Power Loader from Aliens franchise.

But hey, MechWarriors are cool in videogames, movies, and books, and maybe that's their goal - just to be cool, not really that much realistic.
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#9
Mechwarriors are totally cool.

Theoretically, it's possible. We already design incredibly complex large machines with many moving parts. A typical cruise or naval warship is a good example. But to get from those machines (which require hundreds or thousands of people to operate them) to a self-operating or single-person operational state requires engineering and materials design beyond our current state of knowledge.

I'm not ready to say it's unrealistic. Might be better to say unrealized by today's science and technology.

Future machine-construction materials might be grown rather than mined and refined, and who knows what we'll be able to design then.

The greatest challenges to developing such technology remain (in my opinion) the energy requirements, the heat management as you point out, and the gravitational limitations on moving such huge structures around. Space-mechs may become a reality within a few generations.
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