Could Mechs Exist?
Hello everyone, Flint here. Let’s face it, we’re all deeply infatuated with gigantic robots, a science fiction staple that includes such memorable mechanical monsters as the Transformers, Pacific Rim Jaegers and even the AT-AT Walkers from Star Wars. But my favourite mechs of all time come from the anime series Gundam.
Mobile Suit Gundam was principally developed by renowned animator Yoshiyuki Tomino, along with a changing group of Sunrise creators who went under the collective pseudonym of “Hajime Yatate”. Most Gundams are large, bipedal, humanoid-shaped vehicles controlled from cockpits by a human pilot. The majority of these “mobile suits” have a cockpit in the “torso” of the machine, with a camera built into the “head” to transmit images to the cockpit and are non-sentient machines.
Mobile Suit Gundam is said to have pioneered the real robot subgenre of mecha anime.
It attempted a realism in the robot design and weaponry, by running out of energy and ammunition or breaking and malfunctioning. The technology is practical and is either derived from true science, such as Lagrange points in space and the O’Neill cylinder as a living environment or at least well-explained, feasible technology, requiring only a few fictional elements to function, such as Minovsky Physics as a means of energy production from helium. The necessity of developing humanoid robots is also explained, albeit fictional. The fictional Minovsky particle pervasive in Universal Century is depicted as interfering with radar-guided long-distance cruise missiles, anti-aircraft guns, missiles, and all early warning systems, with weapons systems having to rely on human eyes. In Universal Century, the space-based Principality of Zeon rebels against Earth Federation, requiring a weapons system that could function in zero and normal gravity and be able to open and close air locks, plant demolition charges, and engage with enemy tanks and planes; with a robotic giant being an excellent choice.
Now that I have explained what exactly Gundams are it’s time to ask the question, “could they ever be constructed”? My answer is yes but it wouldn’t function like it would in anime. Here are two reasons why. There are obviously more reasons but I believe these two are the most important. Remember, my theories are based off realistic views and not futurist anime views.
The sheer enormity of Mechs
A good place to start this investigation is by looking at we’ve already been able to produce. As it stands, the largest functional robot currently in use is Vulcan Engineering’s MegaBot.
It’s an electric articulated-arm production robot that has a reach of six meters and can pick up objects as heavy as 3,675 lbs (1,670 kg). It can spin 360 degrees and handle pitch torque up to 180,000 inch-pounds. And it features an impressive grip force of up to 9,700 lbs.
Now, as impressive as MegaBot appears to be, it’s clearly a far cry from Gundams monstrous mecha — something that’s several orders of magnitude greater in terms of both its size and complexity.
Assuming strong, lightweight materials could be developed, the sheer enormity of its moving appendages would still cause tremendous strain on its mechanical parts. Managing all the various dynamics involved, including the robot’s velocity, acceleration, momentum, heat dissipation, and internal torque, would likely be completely untenable. Even if such a thing could be built, it would likely have to move at an agonizingly impractical slow pace. Just imagine trying to slow this thing down once it got going!
Indeed, as Carnegie Mellon University roboticist Mel Siegel noted in his paper, “When Physics Rules Robotics,” one of the primary problems of robotics is dealing with any excess weight. Engineers are constantly pushing the envelope of what’s possible in terms of size, often working to prevent the weight of the robot to cause it to collapse in on itself. This, among other reasons, is why Honda’s humanoid ASIMO is so tiny at 1.2 meters in height.
And then there’s the energy factor to consider. After contemplating the amount of power required to energize a skyscraper sized robot, it would require a hell of a lot of batteries. That said, it is suspected that we might someday be able to wirelessly beam energy, use nuclear reactors, or even have an in-house power plant at work. This would help creating a Gundam a little but more realistic.
The sheer impracticality of Mechs
Cost is another important factor. It’s fair to say that assembling a fleet of these things would be cost prohibitive to say the least. SciencePortal actually conducted a calculation a few years ago to see how much it would cost to build a Gundam. Looking at the requirements, a list that included aluminum alloy, metal processing, a main computer, gas turbine engines, superconductive motors, and more. The Japanese science and technology researchers concluded that it would cost no less than $725,000,000 to build. And that’s just for one Gundam!
Roboticists typically use a humanoid form on a human scale, because it allows the robot to operate seamlessly in human environments, so, I do have to wonder why it would be useful to have such a gigantic robot in a humanoid shape at all, anywhere, for any circumstance. We couldn’t need to create something like this since there wouldn’t be a need to use it. However, it would be a very good weapon in warfare against other countries if another world war broke out.
The only possible reason for producing a robot of that size on Earth would be for aesthetic purposes like an accomplishment of structural engineering simply for the sake of seeing if it could be done. But as for it being something practical or helpful, that’s more unlikely.
Thank you for reading and I hope you have a good day!
~Flint the Theorist