How does Iron Man's suit of armor actually work? Taking all of the various fictional inventions and working out the physics behind them may sound like the kind of thing that would drive you mad, but writer Eliot R. Brown has done just that very thing for Marvel's All-New Iron Manual, and in the process discovered just how close to real world science Stan Lee was when creating the character in the early 1960s.
Talking to Newsarama, Brown explained,
Dear Stan (Lee) was not all that far off from getting it absolutely right. "Transistors" really were the key to a working Iron Man, as he and all the artists saw "him." Transistors can be many things, switches and amplifiers, string enough of them together and you have a computer. But, just as your modern computer has several millions of transistors, Stan missed out on noting the development of "integrated circuitry." That happened not all that much before the emergence of Iron Man #1... I was fascinated to see articles about the military's experimental "Man Amplified" programs in the late 50s, early 60s. They showed engineering mock-ups of white-shirted engineers inside a metal skeleton with huge cylindrical motors as "muscles" at strategic joints... it was all there! Also, there was a lot of work done to develop a "walking truck." I have seen full-sized mock-ups that did walk, but not much more came of it. If you Google "military robots" and find links to YouTube you will see as close to an Iron Man suit as you might care to—a little more skeletonized, can't fly, but it can pick up very heavy things and walk around with them. Yes, there's man in there!
Turns out that it's the flying that will get you every time, even with today's technology:
Have you been on the highways lately? Even supposing friendly super-computers with dedicated auto-pilots... well, it doesn't take much of a human element to screw that up, HAL! I think computers and man-machine interfaces would have to go a long way further for the reliability to reach a point where people can *drive* "hands-off" never mind fly! Will it happen? Yes; when is a tougher question. You can buy a flying car right now—well, a year's waiting list and for a million bucks—but the FAA won't let you fly it off your property.
Of course, the FAA may be tough, but they're no match for repulsor ray gloves...