Transformers – Assemble

If the day ever comes that we meet residents of another planet, there is a litany of questions that we would wish to ask. But that list would differ based on the background of the person asking the questions. And this is natural.

The soldier would want to know about the armaments that this alien society has. If humans have not yet developed intergalactic travel, then it stands to reason that the technology of this alien race would be dramatically superior to ours. On the other hand, it could be that these aliens had long ago rejected any form of violence, as part of their philosophy or religion. So it could very well be that we would be militarily superior. It would be ironic if these aliens came all the way to earth only to be shot dead during a robbery.

The person of faith would of course want to know what religion the aliens followed. I will not bore you with my Dvar Torah, on the meaning of finding aliens who have the same Bible as the Jews [or the Christians or the Buddhists, etc.]. But I think it is fair to say that even the staunchest atheists would be fascinated to hear the answer.

The technologists would beg to see the schematics for the spaceship itself, to understand everything from the propulsion system to the alloys that make up the hull of the ship. The energy source that drives such a ship would likely allow humankind to abandon fossil fuels and make power readily available and cheap.  If the aliens would be willing to share their knowledge, i.e. strongly suspect that there would be throngs of people who would be more than interested to listen to every word [through the aliens’ version of Google translate].

And of course, amongst all of the questions I would have, my focus would be on whether they also read comic books, and everything about their medical care. There really is absolutely no way to predict whether their physiology would have any similarity to ours. They might be inherently resistant to all forms of viruses and bacteria such that they never developed any expertise in infectious diseases. Their natural life span might be so long, and their health naturally so good that there medical technologies are in fact very primitive. There would be those who would argue that similarities between our physiologies would be more surprising than the differences.

Assuming that these aliens are not on earth looking to colonize the planet and find a new source for their version of the McDonald’s double burger, this would be the ultimate experience so far in spillover of technology from one area to another. Almost anything we would learn from them in one area of study, such as “materials”, would most likely have applications to every field of science, and perhaps many fields in the arts.

I must admit that this is a very roundabout way to mention an idea that I had quite a few months ago. It should be no surprise to anyone that I was not the sole possessor of such an idea, and in fact the American military had already looked into the applicability of this idea.

When you watch movies today, you can’t help but be amazed by the special effects. Something is subtle as the effect of wind on grass is included in the baseline effects that accompany major movies. Of course, science fiction and comic based movies use far more special effects than an historical piece. But I remember reading about one fictional historical piece about King Arthur, where a major fight scene was significantly created on the computer. And when I first saw the movie, I never suspected as such.

I am a big fan of the Transformers movies. I am in awe of the imagination and design skills of the animators such that they can digitally transform a car into a huge robot. A few months ago,  I sent an email to a company that deals with a recently established public company that deals with robotic assistance for paraplegics. One quick look at the device, which is called an exoskeleton, and you cannot help but think of the Marvel comics character Iron Man.

My question was whether the animators from the Transformers movies could design a new version of this exoskeleton that would fold into a wheelchair. The logic is straightforward – the user would mobilize using the wheelchair until that point at which it is necessary or simply desired to get up and walk. At the push of a button, the wheelchair would transform into the exoskeleton that allows the user to walk. I did not receive any responses to my email, but I hope that at some point, someone in the right  professional position and/or with the funds, will explore this possibility. It would be an astounding validation of spillover technology from entertainment to the “real” world.

The military is understandably very interested in any technology that could protect soldiers and reduce the strain on their bodies. Running in battle, trying to avoid being shot, while carrying a very significant and heavy load on your back, is not the ideal in terms of efficiency. But if an exoskeleton were to exist that could magnify the strength and endurance of the soldier, while making the soldier nearly impervious to injury, this would fundamentally change war. In theory, if it becomes too hard or too expensive to kill even one soldier, it might make countries more willing to sit and discuss more peaceful options. To paraphrase Tony Stark, “privatizing war” could bring peace to many parts of the world.

In reality, the military has turned to the company Legacy Effects, which is the team behind the special effects in the Iron Man movies. Combine the design skills of such a team with military engineers and specialists in metallic materials, and you actually have a technological dream team, that could in fact produce an Ironman suit. No one expects the first version of such a suit to allow for individual flight and repulsor rays [whatever these really are]. All that this first version of the suit would need to do in order to be considered a success, is to significantly reduce fatalities and injuries in the field. If the cost of each such suits is not prohibitive, then such suits suddenly become a very real possibility. Now, the question would be how long it would take to produce that first suit.

Today, whenever you speak of initial development of a physical tool, people already begin to think of how the tool could practically be 3-D printed. 3-D printing in this case would allow for a much faster turnover in testing new designs. If each change in the model suit can be ready for real-life testing by the next day, this would dramatically cut down overall development time.

The applications for such suits are not only in the military. Such Ironman suits could be the ultimate Hazmat suits, protecting infectious disease specialists from unknown diseases (and local unfriendly soldiers). For the disabled, such suits could be designed to compensate for the disability. This really is a case where the only limitation is our combined imagination.

Personally, whenever I read about such technologies, I feel like a kid in the candy store. But as an adult medical professional, I can’t help but imagine the tremendous benefits of such suits. In my mind, there is no question that such technologies would save lives on a mass scale. What’s more could a physician hope for.
Thanks for listening
About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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