Okay, so I have been working on this, and I wanted to pass along some of the ideas.
First, a brief piece on power systems. Obviously, batteries and power packs are going to be available to run powered exoskeletons. Some of these are going to be small, others are going to be pretty large. I'm thinking that something similar to the ship building systems (either GMG/Starships or Warships) will work. Basically, a power system generates a set amount of power (based on its size) per unit time which can then be used to run the various pieces of equipment mounted onto an exoskeleton. Each power system of course also has time limits, dictated by charge capacity, fuel, etc. I actually do want to include what amounts to an internal combustion engine into this, since that could be popular in PL6 civilizations.
I will also be including both mini fusion reactors and mass reactors, and not just at PL8. I'll explain what I'm thinking, though.
At PL6, the first microfusion reactors are going to be available. However, these are not the same as larger ship-board fusion reactors. Instead, they use aneutronic fusion
. Unlike normal fusion reactions involving Hydrogen isotopes, aneutronic fusion doesn't rely on neutrons to carry energy from the reaction (specifically, it must be less than 1% of the energy released). This actually has a couple of benefits: first, it reduces or eliminates the requirement for neutron shielding; second, it can be used to directly create electricity (neutron reliant fusion usually uses something like steam generators to convert the neutron's energy into heat and then into electricity).
What this means is that aneutronic fusion generators can be smaller (requiring less shielding and direct energy conversion systems). Unfortunately, it also has some problems. Most aneutronic reactions require higher temperatures than normal fusion, and the fuel is not as common or as easy to prep.
In the case of microfusion generators in this system, it uses gravity induction technology to fuse two Helium-3 ions into Helium-4 and a proton, making it a smaller, cleaner version of the Grav-Fusion cell.
For the mass reactor, I'm turning to Dataware for inspiration. In the chapter on robot construction, it says that PL7 robots of 51 cm or taller rely on a mass reactor for power. It's not any lighter than batteries, but it does last a hell of a lot longer. I figure that if you can cram a mass reactor into a robot half a meter tall (about one third average human height), you should be able to mount one on a powered exoskeleton.
I personally believe for this project that there shouldn't be a perfect system, and everything has benefits and drawbacks. For microfusion and mass reactors, these are similar. For benefits, you can start with these: long endurance (weeks worth of power, if not potentially months); reliability (they don't need oxygen and won't short out if exposed to water); and high power output (these things are likely going to produce more energy than is actually needed to operate the exoskeleton under normal conditions). For flaws, you can start with these: heavy equipment (these are portable, not handheld, so you are still talking tens of kilograms); high cost (these are not going to be cheap); and expensive fuel costs (helium-3 and dark matter may be common enough, but they aren't easy to collect and transport).
Moving on, I want to give my current ideas for one of the major components of a powered exoskeleton: the frame.
As I said before, the frame puts the "skeleton" in "exoskeleton". Like the skeletons of animals, the frame provides support for the exoskeleton's mass and functions as a means for leverage for the actuators. The frame also provides the general physical shape of the exoskeleton and keeps the various components together.
The various frame types have a number of characteristics for game use. First, they type determines the carrying capacity (rated in kilograms); this determines how much equipment they can carry (usually not including the operator), including carried gear and mounted items. Another is complexity; this measures how easy it is to don the exoskeleton as well as how hard it is to use. Funny enough, the simpler it is, the easier it is to don, but the harder it is to use. The reason I'm using the term "complexity" is actually directed at the joints and their operation (a simple joint doesn't necessarily follow the operator's joint perfectly, while more complex joints maintain varying degrees of alignment with the user's body).
There are a few different types of frames, which are divided by they rough characteristics. The types are robotic frames, exosuits, medibotic frames, mechsuits, cybernetic frames, nanosuits, and biobotic frames.
Robotic frames are the largest and least complex in terms of joints. These are basically robots that an operator straps themselves into and then manipulates. They are one of the strongest frames in terms of carrying capacity, but aren't necessarily easy to operate (they shift the user's center of gravity, usually to a point behind them). These are the least complex frames, and first appear at the end of PL5 and become common in PL6. Examples include almost all real exoskeletons in development, as well as the fictional Power Loader from the movie Aliens
and the combat jackets from Edge of Tomorrow
. Robotic frames can't be fully sealed or armored, as the frame doesn't maintain enough alignment with the human body. As a result, they are usually used in industrial applications.
Exosuits become available at PL6. These are the first suit-like exoskeletons, completely surrounding the operator's body. If fact, many of them are actually built around the operator. An exosuit can maintain alignment with the large major joints of the human body, specifically at the shoulder, hip, elbow, and knee. However, it is too bulky to maintain alignment fully with the spine, hands, wrists, ankles, and feet. As a result, they usually increase the wearer's height by a couple of centimeters, and usually restrict torso movements. The hands and feet are also usually extensions rather than gauntlets or boots (resulting in a slightly different proportion for the wearer's arms and legs). A good example for an exosuit is the Terran Marine armor from StarCraft. Exosuits are popular as early forms of powered armor, and are the first to be able to completely seal the operator away from hostile environments (making them popular as hard e-suits).
Medibotic frames are basically slimmed down, light-weight frames developed in PL6/7 for use in medical applications. They can be concealed under bulky clothing, and come in lower-body and full-body options. While they are intended to allow paralyzed individuals or stroke victims to walk and move again, these can also be used as a concealed strength boosting system, and are popular with explorers and hikers to increase their carrying capacity for little weight. Medibotic frames are more complex than exosuits, and can even include boosted gloves and boots. Unfortunately, they aren't overly strong, so they suffer they have the lowest carrying capacity.
Mechsuits are the middle ground between powered exoskeletons and full-sized mecha (piloted robots). The rough difference is that a mecha is usually quite large (several meters in height) and features a cockpit where the operator's entire body resides while operating the unit. A mechsuit, however, is only about 2.5 to 3 meters in height, and while the majority of the operator's body is in the unit's torso, at least the lower legs and usually the forearms are in their respective areas of the unit. An example of a mechsuit in fiction would be Iron Monger's armor from the first Iron Man
movie, as well as the later Hulkbuster armor. Another way to think of this category is as an over-sized version of the smaller exosuit, where the user's head is now located in the torso.
Cybernetic frames are developed in PL7, and have complex joints that match the vast majority of the joints in the human body. This is literally Iron Man's armor. It isn't perfect, and is still somewhat bulky, but it is far easier to move and perform actions in this type of frame. It also requires either a dedicated assembly system or a small team of people to put it on. However, assuming it has enough power, cybernetic frames are comfortable enough to wear for long periods (I would still recommend installing various life support systems to make it viable to live in for days).
Nanosuits are even more advanced PL7/8 exoskeletons. Note, these are not made of nanites, but instead use a multilayered construction relying on early nanotechnology. For example, a number of layers are dedicated to a distributed computing and built-in power system, relying on nano-thread batteries and superfine superconductive wiring. Other layers include an adjusting gel/foam layer near the skin, an outer armored sheath, and a set of electromorphic structural rods serving as an adaptive exoskeleton linked to micro-actuators. The result is a strong, comfortable, and intuitive exoskeleton. For an example, think the armor of the Halo franchise, especially the most recent generations. The result is that it is slim but shockingly heavy, and it always requires a dedicated assembly system to put on or take off. However, if you want comfort and effectiveness that you can wear for days (assuming the power holds up), this is the suit you want to use.
Finally, biobotic frames are the most advanced exoskeletons you can find. These are developed at PL8/9, and are composed not of biological components but of nanites (special note, this is NOT the Mk L Iron Man armor from Infinity War). Biobotic frames are always assembled and disassembled in a special vat of nanite-saturated fluid. The nanites are programmed to assemble themselves around the user, forming even more complex layers than the nanosuit. While mechanical in nature (this is not biotechnological), the completed suit feels and acts like a second, toughened skin around the user, boosting strength and durability. The nanites can be minimally powered from the wearer's own body heat and bioelectric field, making this exoskeleton comfortable to wear for potentially months or even years. I also want to note that the nanites are somewhat self-repairing, though not really self-replicating, and cannot move from one area of the body to the other (they are locked into a very small area on the suit during assembly).
A quick note: both the nanosuit and biobotic frame include their own integrated power supply. However, this is a minimal power system, intended to allow the user to move normally with no strength or ground-speed boost (effectively, they only provide enough power for the wearer to move the suit's weight). The reason is that the frames are normally donned first, and then subsequent external plating and equipment is mounted onto specialized locking points. These plates can usually include more energy-dense power supplies (such as a mass reactor or quantum generator) which provides the power needed to boost the wearer's strength, speed, and run additional mounted equipment. In the case of the nanosuit, the distributed nanothread batteries allows the wearer to move for about an hour or two (it can provide a strength boost, but that cuts the usable time down to about 5 minutes), while the biobotic frame lasts pretty much indefinitely.
Finally, I want to discuss assembly systems.
As mentioned above, some exoskeletons are easy to get into, requiring only moments to don and activate. Others, on the other hand, require complex assembly technologies. The most extreme of these is the biobotic frame, which requires a specialized nanite tank to put the suit on or to take it off.
However, prior to that is the Vitruvian Assembler. Named for da Vinci's Vitruvian Man
, this assembly system can be mounted into spacecraft or ground bases. The system consists of a platform where the user stands as well as hand grips on either side. When in the assembler, the user's legs are spread about shoulder-width apart and the arms are extended out to the sides. From there, robotic arms mounted into the floor around the base and attached to the ceiling assemble the exoskeleton around the user. It usually takes a few minutes to fully assemble the exoskeleton, though the specifics are based on the frame type and total mounted equipment.
Some really good examples of a Vitruvian Assembler would be seen in StarCraft 2
, the movie Iron Man
(where it shows the Mk 3 armor being assembled), the movie Marvel's The Avengers
(the walkway at Stark Tower that disassembles the armor while Stark walks), and Halo Spartan Ops
. I'm sure there are more, but those three give a good range of just how such a system would work.
Okay, I'll call it quits for now. Any suggestions, questions, or comments are always welcome.