A 20th century with mechas

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Jub
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Re: A 20th century with mechas

Post by Jub » 2018-05-23 04:49pm

Zixinus wrote:
2018-05-23 03:25pm
1. Hostile atmosphere/space setting: mechas are large enough to carry a power source and a life support system, both things that a regular person can only carry batteries/tanks of for limited amount of time. There are tracked vehicles too (or may even be the majority) but mechas are versatile (can use all four or more limbs for mobility, just switch tools rather than stop to retool entire vehicle) enough to be worthwhile. Especially useful (maybe?) where getting something ready to get the job done is more important than doing it efficiently.
Do we do this IRL? Nope, we use a truck and trailer to carry extra supplies, build infrastructure out to the area so we don't need to carry supplies in one trip, and have construction equipment that can quickly and easily swap tools to do multiple jobs. If mecha made any sense you'd already see them used in the Amazon for logging/mining or in the Antarctic where hostile environment and need for fairly bulky gear to go out and do anything are facts of life.
2. Snow? Either abnormally large or similar obstacle where mechas can just walk over (I'm assuming non-humanoid design). What comes to mind is Frostpunk's automatons, which were actually quadroped but could walk around on long legs rather than force its way through the snow. This was partly game design, so the automatons would not interfere with things on the ground much (they do climb about) but this aspect made sense to me.
Again not likely. If it were you'd see cities with snow issues using walkers instead of current snow removal equipment, and militaries would be using them instead of snowmobiles, tracked snow tractors, and other ingenious means to go over the snow. If it's some other obstacle, like a boulder field or ash drifts, you're going to have an engineer dispatched to deal with the terrain issue. You don't usually invent a new mode of transport to deal with problems we're already solved.

Plus, in Frostpunk there shouldn't be any fresh snow given the temperature so you have nice stable ice to walk on (no mecha needed) or you're ignoring science already and just rocking rule of cool.

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Re: A 20th century with mechas

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-05-23 10:23pm

Jub wrote:
2018-05-23 04:49pm
Zixinus wrote:
2018-05-23 03:25pm
1. Hostile atmosphere/space setting: mechas are large enough to carry a power source and a life support system, both things that a regular person can only carry batteries/tanks of for limited amount of time. There are tracked vehicles too (or may even be the majority) but mechas are versatile (can use all four or more limbs for mobility, just switch tools rather than stop to retool entire vehicle) enough to be worthwhile. Especially useful (maybe?) where getting something ready to get the job done is more important than doing it efficiently.
Do we do this IRL? Nope, we use a truck and trailer to carry extra supplies, build infrastructure out to the area so we don't need to carry supplies in one trip, and have construction equipment that can quickly and easily swap tools to do multiple jobs. If mecha made any sense you'd already see them used in the Amazon for logging/mining or in the Antarctic where hostile environment and need for fairly bulky gear to go out and do anything are facts of life.
Given that in real life the technology for powered exoskeletal systems has really only been making serious progress in the past decade or two, and that bipedal walking robots likewise have only been making progress for that long... um, I wouldn't assume that?

We may very well see loggers and miners using exoskeletons for certain job applications in the next few decades; the idea of a 'utility mecha' like the cargo lifters from Aliens or the civilian version of the walkers from Avatar isn't really out of the question in my opinion. But it's a technology that simply isn't mature enough to be sure if it'll ever be profitable in those applications.

As to the Antarctic, in real life it's not exploited economically on a meaningful enough level for the need to carry out heavy labor under Antarctic conditions to drive innovation in technology. People use scaled-up versions of the same cold weather gear they'd use everywhere else because "work in Antarctica" simply doesn't justify much of an R&D budget.
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Re: A 20th century with mechas

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2018-05-24 12:39am

Zixinus wrote:
2018-05-23 03:25pm
1. Hostile atmosphere/space setting: mechas are large enough to carry a power source and a life support system, both things that a regular person can only carry batteries/tanks of for limited amount of time. There are tracked vehicles too (or may even be the majority) but mechas are versatile (can use all four or more limbs for mobility, just switch tools rather than stop to retool entire vehicle) enough to be worthwhile. Especially useful (maybe?) where getting something ready to get the job done is more important than doing it efficiently.
Why would a mecha be able to retool more easily then any other kind of machine? We already have all kinds of universal hydraulic and rotary power interfaces on tractors and hydraulic construction machinery. A mecha is just going to have the same kind of things on whatever it's limbs are.

2. Snow? Either abnormally large or similar obstacle where mechas can just walk over (I'm assuming non-humanoid design). What comes to mind is Frostpunk's automatons, which were actually quadroped but could walk around on long legs rather than force its way through the snow. This was partly game design, so the automatons would not interfere with things on the ground much (they do climb about) but this aspect made sense to me.
Snow is one place we can absolutely say a mecha will be inferior to a tracked or wheeled vehicle. The way to deal with deep snow is to float over it with minimal ground pressure, very wide tracks or very large low pressure tires. Walking means either very high ground pressure or extremely slow movement. For bonus vehicles designed like this are also easy to make amphibious, they may outright float from the tires alone, which tends to be handy in polar conditions where roads don't exist but the environment may not be absolutely frozen at all times of the year.

As far as obstructions go, some kind of jagged rock formations would be place where long legged walking would be an advantage. But then the question becomes, why are we bothering to operate on this rock formation? In sorta recent mountain operations against ISIL and the FSA in the Arsal region the Lebanese Army actually had hydraulic excavators with jackhammer attachments lead some of it's advances, smashing rocks so bulldozers could build roads up into an area which had none. Worked well, but slow.

If notionally some mecha could have made the advance without the jackhammer support they could have advanced faster, but I'm not sure this would have worked out because the road building also served to clear minefields, and it would only be possible to sustain the operation given infantry and logistical support on the same kind of vehicle. The bigger the rugged mountain area the more and more helicopters would become an advantage, and the less able the enemy would be to defend against them. Lebanon didn't have that option in 2017, but even if they had the defended area was too potent to be assaulted that way. It was however easily covered by artillery on lower ground.

Volcanic lava fields would be a similar situation where walking has a real advantage, but those tend to be easier to outright bulldoze as the rocks themselves tend not to be that large. Just frigging endless and sharp.
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Re: A 20th century with mechas

Post by Jub » 2018-05-24 03:47am

Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-05-23 10:23pm
Given that in real life the technology for powered exoskeletal systems has really only been making serious progress in the past decade or two, and that bipedal walking robots likewise have only been making progress for that long... um, I wouldn't assume that?

We may very well see loggers and miners using exoskeletons for certain job applications in the next few decades; the idea of a 'utility mecha' like the cargo lifters from Aliens or the civilian version of the walkers from Avatar isn't really out of the question in my opinion. But it's a technology that simply isn't mature enough to be sure if it'll ever be profitable in those applications.
Powered exoskeletons, at least man-sized frames aren't mecha. They're closer to power armor and as was recently discussed in another thread that's likely to be an expensive item that fills very limited niches if it ever does become common.

Something like the Exosuit from Aliens is little more than a more breakdown-prone forklift that also, strictly due to design limitations, tips over more easily than any real forklift. In a warehouse, it's going to be slower and more prone to mechanical issues than a forklift. In rough terrain, you make your forklift four-wheel drive and add off-road tires, you don't go for a more clumsy and expensive walker.

Timberjack, a now-defunct company purchases by John Deere, tried to push the idea of walking tractors for forestry use as well as other fantasy applications like use in urban areas where any sane company would just use tracks or wheels. They sunk like 20 years of research into it, built a single prototype which got some buzz back in 2008 and failed to develop the idea further. Nobody wanted an expensive, slow-moving, mechanical nightmare with only limited upside over existing vehicles. This is the issue with walking vehicles, they're always going to be more complex than a tracked or wheeling design and you basically have to invent a reason why you'd need one in the first place.

The closest idea that makes sense for walkers is something like a mechanical pack mule and thus far the versions tested have been awful and none have seen service. These are useful if they can be small, quiet, go anywhere a soldier can, and have the battery life/fuel capacity to march as long as an infantryman can without placing a significant extra strain on the logistics train.

If you can point out a cost-effective niche for a walking vehicle that can't be filled by an existing vehicle or doctrine (such as blasting out rocks and building a road to get around bad terrain) or for which a walker with reasonably foreseeable technology would be uniquely effective I'll give it a fair shot. However simply saying, it's not mature tech yet we need to wait an indefinate amount of time to see if it ever pans out smacks of the same dishonesty that still tries to sell us flying cars. Sure, it could happen in some scenario but it's unlikely and often impractical given the information we have now.
As to the Antarctic, in real life it's not exploited economically on a meaningful enough level for the need to carry out heavy labor under Antarctic conditions to drive innovation in technology. People use scaled-up versions of the same cold weather gear they'd use everywhere else because "work in Antarctica" simply doesn't justify much of an R&D budget.
Or perhaps the same stuff that works in very other could place on earth also works there. Or do you really think that if Antarctica were to be exploited for resources we'd be sending out mechs and issuing powered snowsuits instead of building roads, bridging chasms, and using the cheapest cold weather gear that will allow a man to work outside for a productive length of time?

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Re: A 20th century with mechas

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-05-24 08:29am

Flying cars are obviously not going to take off without radical improvements in power sources that are, as of this time, not foreseeable on the horizon. It's reasonable to project that they won't do so at all.

Mechanical walkers, including both powered exoskeletons and scaled-up variations on same, trip over two different obstacles. One is mechanical complexity, the other is physical ability to navigate terrain and, well, walk.

The former issue isn't going to get much better any time soon. There are some things that could probably simplify it (i.e. having some mechanical part that extends and contracts like a muscle, instead of needing a mass of actuators or hydraulics to move a leg), but there's no foreseeable path to that technology. But the latter issue is under ongoing development and progress is still being made. It is for that reason, not some smarmy dishonesty, that I say "walking mechanical systems today may be like heavier-than-air flying machines in 1870; a thing no one could imagine actually building, but that could feasibly be built with more advanced technology within our lifetimes."

That said, I don't expect walking machines to find anywhere near as many niches as heavier than air flying machines did, for all the many many reasons people have listed.
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Re: A 20th century with mechas

Post by LaCroix » 2018-05-24 10:49am

Walkers suffer a big problem that most likely will never have them implemented, size.

We do have all parts to build walkers/robots - hydraulic pistons work exactly like muscle (even better, since they can pull and push, thus being able to eliminate the counterplayer if needed), and are well understood.
All kinds of joints and gears exist that would mimic a human body's.
Sensors can monitor our movements and position like our senses do.
Computers can coordinate all this just like our brain does.

Still, we barely manage to make walking robots, and only a few prototypes exist that can do this in a near-human way.
Atlas is about the size of a human (175cm, 81kg) - but he is mostly mechanics and plastic cover. He can do acrobatics, though.

Still - he's more or less a walking roomba, with some options to remote control. I'd guess his batteries don't last long - depending on the pump he is driving for the hydraulics.

He's a working model, designed to go places a human can't (due to gasses/temperature, ets), and then do stuff there.
You could armor him a bit and give him gun hands, I'd think - the old version had 150kg, as some humans have, and they can still walk on most grounds. you could go to 200, just as well, with using slightly bigger feet.

Useful? I'd say yes. 80-120 kg of armor/equipment add up to quite a lot, and there is a lot less vitals you need to protect. The structure is solid, you can have redundant, auto-sealing hydraulic hoses, kevlar wrapping all of it, and putting some additional hardened sheet metal around the absolute essentials, proofing it against infantry calibre weapons. You'd need to hit that thing really hard to take it out. Useful to clean out houses - it can go anywhere a human can, and anything big enough to hurt him is ether not usually around in this context (cal 50 weaponry), or (explosives) would also kill the users in that situation. Actually, you could give him a (small)grenade launcher - he's most likely not going to care about it if the room gets filled with shrapnell or blast waves - at least less than his targets.

Now while there is some niche for this, scaling it up big enough to add a crew,serious weaponry, and armor, you have the problem of his feet not growing fast enough to keep up with ground pressure. Even if you were making them oversize, he's using only one for half the time, which means they'd need to be huge - which means wider hips, which means more weight in structure and armor, which means bigger feet...

While kind of plausible, these feet and wide hips would make it hard for him to maneuver on anything but flat, open terrain - where a tank is better suited.

He'd be a huge walking building that can be seen for miles. And while he could brace agains his gun's recoil, he'd be tumbling around under the amount of ordenance such a huge bullet magnet would attract.
Additionaly, the huge feet might mean that he can't even get up anymore if he were to fall.

Make him 4-legged box, you'd address all the problem, but then, that also makes him a tank on stilts. Slower, and also confined to pretty much the same terrain. In fact, a tank could force his way through wooded terrain, flattening trees, in a way this walker couldn't.
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