Category Archives: Science

Why You Should Actually Trust BattleTech’s Mysteriously Short-Ranged Autocannons

Courtesy of EldoniousRex

So it’s been a few years since I wrote an article that compared BattleTech’s autocannon rounds to high explosive pancakes, and while it was a fun piece to write, something has always bothered me about it. There were a lot of responses, all of them from folks much more knowledgeable than myself about military ballistics I’m sure, and they all seemed to make valid points on why a gun’s bore size doesn’t necessarily mean anything when it comes to effective range.

Notably, none of the comments really went over my math to disprove that BattleTech’s cannon munitions are not actually flat discs, so I’m pretty confident that I can convince CGL to one day accept my article as irrefutable truth.

But the range thing--that’s stuck with me. Of course, writing for Sarna is a busy job what with all the BattleTech news that never seems to end (go read Sarna’s recent March news blast to find out what’s going on with MechWarrior 5 and MechWarrior Online, by the way), so I never got the chance to actually go through all those comments to see just what the heck they were talking about.

Until now. Yes, four years later, I’m taking a dive into the deep end of artillery to see just how a larger gun can shoot a bigger bullet not as far as a smaller gun firing a tinier shell.

And my journey starts with, of all people, Tex of the Black Pants Legion.

From my previous interview and listening to the Black Pants Legion podcast, I knew that Tex was a gun nut and also a military historian, so I figured if anybody knew a thing or two about guns, it’d be him. Sadly, Tex is a busy guy and I wasn’t able to get a full interview, but he was able to point me in the right direction while desperately defending his homestead from COVID zombies.

“Sean, you fuckwit,” I can clearly recall him telling me over a brief Discord call. “Barrel size doesn’t mean jack shit. There’s way more that goes into making a shell go zoom, like stabilization, recoil reduction, heat dissipation, and propellant. Look, you’re a smart guy, just check out this Italian naval cannon and you’ll figure it out.”

Then he hung up after several loud gunshots. I assume he’s fine.

That Italian naval cannon, by the by, was the Oto Melara 76mm autocannon, perhaps one of the best examples you can find today of what an autocannon from the year 3025 might look like. And as I researched the Oto Melara, I was surprised to find that it possessed qualities that seemed to belie its diminutive bore size.

76mm SR
Watch this video on YouTube.

For those unaware, bore size refers to the diameter of the barrel and is often used as a rough measurement to describe a gun’s overall size. However, it is but one measurement of many, and it can often obscure a cannon’s true power.

If you’ll remember from my previous article, the general rule with guns is that the bigger they are the farther they’ll shoot; an M1911 semi-automatic pistol will never be able to shoot as far as an M119 howitzer no matter how much you rearrange the numbers one and nine. But once you get into the artillery range of cannon sizes, things get a lot more… complicated.

The problem with ballistics is that there are way too many factors that’ll determine a gun’s maximum range. That said, we can narrow things down to a few topics and then discuss how those factors could contribute to BattleTech‘s inverse relationship when it comes to bigger guns firing over shorter distances.

The Bigger The Boom, The Bigger The Boomstick

The factors leading to a projectile traveling as far as it can are numerous, but they always start with the same thing: a really big explosion. That explosion then needs to be contained and directed down a barrel that won’t also explode along with the shell that the explosion is pushing. Then there needs to be recoil dampening, exhaust evacuation, and a loading mechanism, all of which need to be appropriately balanced in order to maximize performance.

And that’s what I think Tex was alluding to when he pointed me at that Italian naval cannon. In order for BattleTech’s autocannons to be mounted on a ‘Mech at all, they need to sacrifice some of the factors that allow a cannon to fire with longer range.

Let’s take the Oto Melara 76 mm as a starting point and compare it to the M119 105 mm howitzer. The Oto Melara has a maximum firing range of 20 km, while the howitzer has a maximum range of 17.5 km. The Howitzer fires a larger shell (105 mm), but the smaller shell of the Oto Melara not only flies further, but it also has a lot of friends with a fire rate of about 80 rounds per minute. The M119, on the other hand, struggles to fire 3 rounds per minute with a well-trained crew.

One is a manned field artillery piece designed to be carried on the back of a truck. The other is installed in a naval turret with an automated loader mechanism and radar-assisted fire control. There’s a lot more going on with the Oto Melara to allow its shells to exceed that of the field howitzer, but the point is that a big shell doesn’t always mean one that’ll go far when the cannon goes boom.

Are you my daddy?

We can see an even better example of this by heading back to the final days of World War 2. The Sturmtiger has a gaping 380 mm barrel that’s barely a few feet long--sort of like how you see on certain ‘Mechs such as the Cauldron Born-B, Thunder, and Emperor. Because the German designers tried to shoehorn an enormous gun onto what was essentially a mobile bunker, enormous sacrifices were made to range and fire rate, such that the rounds fired from the Sturmtiger were more like mortar shots with a range of roughly 5 km.

Compare that to something like the 16-inch (406 mm) naval guns on most US battleships of the same era, which had a range of over 40 km, and you see just how meaningless a gun’s bore size can be.

You Need Space To Shine

So what does a cannon need to lob a round as far as it can? Well, as the guns of the Mighty Mo prove, you need a big-ass barrel, a ton of propellant, and something for that propellant to explode against that won’t shatter into a million pieces (and also probably sink the ship that’s firing the round).

Let’s maintain our comparison between the 16-inch guns of the USS Missouri and the Sturmtiger to further prove this point. To get that 43km range, Mighty Mo used six propellant bags that weighed roughly 100 lbs each. The barrel was about 67 feet long, and the whole gun including the breach weighed roughly 134 tons.

Now the Sturmtiger. To ensure that it didn’t blow up every time it fired, the Sturmtiger’s rounds were technically rockets that were integrated into the 830 lb projectile. The barrel was only about 8-feet long, which wasn’t even that much more than the 5-foot long shell itself. And in order to be mobile at all, the gun itself had to be relatively light in order to fit onto the Sturmtiger’s chassis, which topped out at 75 tons.

The Sturmtiger is just like an AC/20 in BattleTech. It had to sacrifice so much in terms of barrel length and gun mass just to fit onto a mobile chassis like a ‘Mech that it lost all the important bits that let a cannon fire like it was Iwo Jima in 1945.

Expand this concept to the rest of BattleTech‘s autocannon line and it doesn’t sound all that unbelievable that the smaller a gun gets the longer its range. To help drive this concept home, I’ve made a series of charts that compare historical weapons and autocannons. Note that the axes are not to any particular scale.

Here we have historical cannons. Note the trend that as a cannon gets larger its attendant vehicle needs to also get larger to maintain that gun’s performance.

Now check out the same chart I made for ‘Mechs and autocannons. Note that ‘Mechs don’t vary nearly as widely as historical military vehicles, so bigger autocannons sacrifice range to stay viable on the platform.

And there you have it. Big guns need big vehicles, and if you don’t get bigger, then those guns have to lose explosive power resulting in less range. BattleTech’s autocannons are not stupid at all and are in fact a clever recreation of what would actually happen if you tried to stick giant cannons onto a giant robot.

Of course, this completely ignores the fact that not all autocannons have the same caliber, even amongst the same class. An AC/20 could be a rapid-firing 120mm cannon or a giant mortar-style 300mm cannon (or anywhere in between) with damage values merely representing their destructive capacity and nothing else.

But that’s a topic for another time.

And as always MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

 

MegaBots Returns With Kickstarter For Giant Robot Tournament (or not)

MegaBots

courtesy of Kickstarter

(update 2017-11-21The campaign was cancelled early.)

MegaBots has returned after their first ever successful international giant robot bout with yet another Kickstarter aimed at creating the world’s first Giant Robot Fighting Tournament.

You might remember MegaBots from their longstanding feud with Japan’s Kuratas creators, Suidobashi Heavy Industries. The two titans of robotics finally came to blows after a two-year wait on October 17, with the Kuratas taking the first fight and the MegaBots Eagle Prime taking the second. Although the fight fell a little short of our dreams for Solaris VII style gladiatorial combat, the video was watched over 20 million times across all its media platforms.

With that kind of viewership, MegaBots decided to take things to the next level and start a Kickstarter campaign to fund the next logical step: the creation of an international league of giant robot combat.

Billed as the world’s first Giant Robot Tournament, it would see competitors not just from America and Japan, but also China, South Korea, Canada, and Australia. The Chinese already have two fully completed robots: the Fighting My Bots Yamantaka and GREATMETAL’s Monkey King. No word on what giant robots the other countries have in store, but hopefully the Canadian entry is a giant mechanical beaver that fires maple syrup.

What? I’m allowed to say that. I’m Canadian.

Yamantaka

courtesy of Kickstarter

MegaBots has got a steep hill to climb though. They’re asking for $950,000.00 in funding, and say that if they can’t meet that as a minimum they’re going to shut their doors for good, forever ending the dream of giant robot combat. They say the cash is needed to help other teams enter the sport with footing the cost of R&D, which MegaBots will help out with by making their schematics for the Mk.II Iron Glory open source. That means anybody with a bunch of spare parts and some engineering know-how could make their very own combat capable ‘Mech.

Some of the stretch goals include creating a comic book series, an 8-team battle royale, and at $5 million, the holy grail: actual walking ‘Mechs.

They’ve also got some artists’ renditions of the tournament that seems straight out of a Solaris VII TRO. I’m guessing part of that money will be spent on figuring out how to have a live audience anywhere near a combat zone without getting killed.

Tournament

courtesy of Kickstarter

So far they’re at a little over $30 grand, so a bit of a slow start, but hopefully things pick up when the word gets out. And if you’re the type to support giant robot fighting (and I know you are) there’s some cool merch available for backers too.

So what are you waiting for?! Be the BattleTech change you want to see in the world!

Update 2017-11-21The campaign was cancelled early.

First Ever Giant Robot Duel Set To Stream On Oct 17

Eagle Prime

courtesy of qz.com

It’s finally happening. The fight of the century between America’s MegaBots Inc. and Japan’s Suidobashi Heavy Industry for the title of world’s greatest giant robot maker is about to happen.

Or more accurately, it’s already happened. The fight has yet to be aired, but the duel between the Eagle Prime and the Kuratas has actually already occurred with the whole thing being recorded and edited for broadcast. That broadcast is set to happen next Tuesday, October 17th at 7 PM PST (that’s 10 PM EST) on MegaBots’ Twitch channel.

As we reported back in August the duel between these giant death machines was to occur in September, and apparently the whole thing was done in an abandoned steel mill in Japan without any spectators – just the engineering teams from both sides. The duel was fought over several days since after each battle both ‘Mechs required repairs, and just like in BattleTech it can take a few days to repair grievous damage to a giant robot. This also explains why it wasn’t live streamed like a traditional sport since it would’ve been a few minutes of mayhem followed by days of technicians with welders and duct tape.

We’ve also learned a few more details. The commentators are Mike Goldberg of MMA fame and Saura Naderi, a robotics engineer at Qualcomm. Also, there was no scoring involved in any of the battles: matches were fought to a knockout, which meant that either the robot was completely knocked over or otherwise incapacitated.

It seems like a lifetime ago since the fight was announced way back in 2015. Now that the day has finally arrived I can hardly contain my excitement. Here’s hoping it was a good fight, and may the best giant robot win!

Giant Robots Finally Set To Do Battle In September

Megabots

courtesy of qz.com

After 2 years of waiting, it’s finally going to happen: giant robots from Japan and America will engage in Solaris-style combat to determine which nation is the greatest ‘Mech builder on Earth.

You may remember from our previous articles on current technologies that mimic those in BattleTech that MegaBots Inc., the builder of the formidable Mk. II MegaBot has challenged Suidobashi Heavy Industries to a duel against their impressive Kuratas quad ’Mech. The original challenge was issued in August of 2015 to take place a year later, and that deadline came and went with not much in the way of giant robot combat.

Well, apparently the delay was because MegaBots was designing an all new robot, the Mk. IIIEagle Prime”, to take on the Kuratas. I guess multi-million dollar machines take more than a year to both design and manufacture. Who knew?

The new date is set for September 2017, and we can’t wait to see the new robot in action. Eagle Prime is a significant upgrade over the Mk. II, weighing nearly 7 tons more and over a full foot taller than the older ‘Mech (that puts Eagle Prime at a whopping 12 tons and 16 feet tall). It’s powered by a 430 hp Chevy LS3 V8 engine which drives a pair of tank treads much like the Mk. II, but while the Mk II. had a pair of air cannons firing massive paintballs, the Mk. III has a double-barreled paintball cannon in the left arm and a massive crusher claw in the right.

Eagle Prime

courtesy of qz.com

Eagle Prime even takes a page out of the OmniMech textbook with swappable armaments. Either arm can be replaced with an enormous chainsaw or an armor shattering drill.

The cost to create Eagle Prime was just over $2.5 million, with $550,000.00 coming from Kickstarter backers and the rest coming from corporate sponsors.

While it certainly seems like a significant upgrade, I can’t help but feel that the Mk. III has lost some armor protection over the Mk. II. It has gained some speed, according to MegaBots, but given the fact that the ‘Mech weighs twice as much as its little brother but is powered by a similar sized engine it’s a little hard to believe them.

Kuratas

courtesy of Suidobiashi Heavy Industries

Development of Eagle Prime has been well documented on the MegaBots YouTube channel, but there hasn’t been much response from Suidobashi Heavy Industries as to what development, if any, has occurred with the Kuratas. If it remains the same design as debuted in 2012, it will be nearly a third of the weight of Eagle Prime while also having a significantly smaller power source. On paper, it looks like the Mk. III will wipe the floor with the Kuratas – provided MegaBots manages to work out all the bugs in their software.

The duel will occur at an undisclosed location, and no spectators will be allowed. Unlike on Solaris, there are no Star League-era defense systems available to protect the public from two multi-ton death machines on a rampage. As for the safety of the pilots, that’s also something that hasn’t been discussed much. Neither ‘Mech has an ejection system, so I’m guessing it’ll be Queensberry rules when it comes time for hand-to-hand combat.

Fans eager for their first taste of giant robot fighting will be able to check out the fight on the MegaBots YouTube channel and Facebook page.

Monkey King

courtesy of BOOM on YouTube

And in a strange twist, it seems that China has also thrown down the gauntlet and announced its arrival in the giant robot fighting game. Shiqian Sun, a Chinese artist known for creating multiple giant robot statues, has created the Monkey King as China’s first gladiator robot. The Monkey King is due for completion next year, so won’t be done in time to take part in the Kuratas/Eagle Prime duel.

The exact date of the duel is not yet known, but we expect to learn more in the coming days. Could this be the beginning of a global giant robot fighting league? We can only hope.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Real Life ‘Mechs

method v2

image courtesy of Weekly.fr

BattleMechs, the giant, hulking kings of the battlefield, have been a cornerstone of the BattleTech universe since its inception. Powered by fusion engines and controlled by neurotransmitters, these enormous walking tanks have always been more science fiction than science fact. But what if I told you that’s no longer the case?

In the BattleTech universe ‘Mechs aren’t supposed to be invented until the year 2351, however many of you may be surprised to know that we’re making astounding advances in the field of giant robots even today. Here are just a few examples of how close we are to one day having a real ‘Mech of our very own.

Method v2

South Korea: World's first giant manned robot takes its first steps
Watch this video on YouTube.


Height: 4.15 m
Weight: 1.6 t
Power Source: Electronic Battery Pack
Price: $8,300,000.00

The first of our robots to look like a real ‘Mech, the Method v2 is made by South Korean Hankook Mirae Technology. It was designed by Hollywood effects designer Vitaly Bulgarov (whose previous works include Transformers, Robocop and The Terminator) and then handed over to a team of 30 engineers which brought this giant robot to life.

The Method v2 is piloted by a single passenger who has paired joysticks to move the Method’s giant arms. Each joystick includes a set of small buttons aligned with the pilot’s fingers to open and close the Method’s fists. Forward and backward movement is controlled via foot pedals and powerful electric motors rather than myoelectric musculature.

“Our robot is the world’s first manned bipedal robot and is built to work in extreme hazardous areas where humans cannot go (unprotected),” said company chairman Yang Jin-Ho in an interview with the Telegraph, who has invested over $200 million in the project since 2014. That said, it’s still very much considered a technology testbed, and it has only ever been seen with a heavy duty suspension system keeping it upright. The Method v2 still has a long way to go before its first untethered steps.

MegaBot Mk. II

MegaBots at Maker Faire 2015: World Debut of the Mk. II Mech
Watch this video on YouTube.


Height: 4.57 m
Weight: 5.4 t
Power: Gasoline Internal Combustion
Price: Unknown

Our next robot hails from the good ‘ol US of A, and it really shows. It’s a massive, 12,000 lb gasoline engine-powered robot that looks like an AgroMech with delusions of grandeur.

Less of a testbed for technology and more a vehicle for entertainment, MegaBots Inc. created the MegaBot Mk. II to compete in Solaris VII-style combat with the Japanese Kuratas (more on that robot later). So far it has only been seen armed with massive paintball guns, however the plan is to upgrade the Mk. II to become the Mk. III, which will have a chainsaw, massive crusher claws, and BB miniguns. All of it is more for show than real destruction as the intent of the Mk. II is for spectacle over slaughter.

As befits a ‘Mech that’s bound for destruction, everything about the Mk. II is low tech. Power is from a 430-horsepower gasoline burning engine powering a caterpillar system, along with powerful hydraulics for the limbs and torso. A gyroscope isn’t required as the Mk. II’s “legs” act more like a crane to extend the torso from its tank-like feet.

MegaBots so far hasn’t released the development costs of the project, but with powerful investors and $500,000.00 from a kickstarter campaign, the final price tag is well into the millions.  

Kuratas

KURATAS - Suidobashi heavy industry
Watch this video on YouTube.


Height: 4.1 m
Weight: 4.5 t
Power: Diesel Internal Combustion
Price: $1,353,500.00

When Kogoro Kurata was a child he always dreamed the future would have giant fighting robots just like in anime. After he grew up and became a blacksmith (a job that apparently still exists in Japan) he grew impatient with a future totally devoid of giant robots, so he set about building his own. Then, in 2012, he unveiled the Kuratas to screaming crowds, and the era of giant robots for the masses was born.

The Kuratas is controlled by 30 hydraulic actuators and powered by a diesel fueled engine. Its armament includes a 6000 round per minute rotary BB gun and a power fist controlled by a glove the pilot wears. The controls of the Kuratas are perhaps the most advanced of all: the Kuratas uses a combination of control stick and facial recognition to pilot (the Gatling gun is actually fired with a smile by the pilot). It can also be controlled via remote from a handy downloadable app. Movement is done by 4 wheels on the ends of the quad ‘Mech’s legs, but the designers hope to make the Kuratas fully ambulatory without wheels in the future.

So far the Japanese Kuratas is the cheapest of our ‘Mechs with a downright affordable price tag of a mere $1.35 million. Not only that, you can actually buy one yourself if you have that much money burning a hole in your pocket – the Kuratas is for sale direct from Suidobashi Heavy Industry and can be shipped direct to your door. You can even ask for a custom paint job.

The Kuratas is set to duel the Megabot Mk. III in August of 2017.

Big Dog

BigDog Evolution
Watch this video on YouTube.


Height: 0.76 m
Weight: 101 kg
Power: Gasoline Internal Combustion
Price: $120,000.00

Our next quad ‘Mech is more like a quad Elemental (which I guess would just be a Sloth), but instead of having a human pilot Big Dog is completely autonomous. The plucky little robot is controlled by a human operator who tells the Dog where to go and what to do. It can be ordered to sit, lay down, run and climb over all sorts of terrain just like a real dog.

Created by Boston Dynamics after being awarded a contract from DARPA (to the tune of $33 million), the intent of Big Dog was to assist soldiers in the field as a sort of pack-mule. Soldiers have to carry a lot of stuff, and having a robot help out would sound appealing to any grunt. Big Dog is able to carry up to 400 lbs and is less likely than even the most trained soldier to fall over.

Powered by an internal combustion engine that feeds to an enormously complex system of sensors, gyroscopes, and hydraulic actuators, Big Dog took decades of development and partnership with MIT to make it the most stable autonomous robot the world has ever seen. Sadly, the military didn’t bite, and Big Dog was put back in the doghouse in 2015.

ANDROS Mark V-A1

The $200,000 Police Bomb Robot
Watch this video on YouTube.


Height: 2.43 m (with arm fully extended)
Weight: 0.36 tons
Power: Electronic Battery Pack
Price: $180,000.00

The last of our robots and the first to see actual military use is the Mark V-A1 bomb disposal robot. This little guy was designed by Northrop Grumman in 2004 for the express purpose of handling explosive or potentially hazardous material without risking any human lives.

To accomplish its job, the Mark V comes equipped with a hydraulically actuated extender arm that allows it to manipulate objects in its surroundings. It also has a 72x zoom, 360 degree camera that feeds to an operator equipped with a 15 inch LCD screen. It can be operated via wireless radio or by tethered cable if there’s concern that a technologically capable foe is in the area and might try to hijack the signal.

The Mark V sees use not only in the US army, but also in police forces around the world. Most notable in the Mark V service history was its use by the Dallas Police Department to kill a gunman that murdered 5 officers in 2016. The robot was armed with a pound of C4 explosive, and although the gunman tried to shoot the Mark V and disable it the little robot proved to be too tough to stop.

BattleTech Technology – Today!

At the heart of BattleTech is… well, really, a space opera unlike any other. But right beside the heart (maybe the left ventricle) is the traditional Sci-Fi focus on futuristic technologies. Giant robots, powered by fusion engines, bristling with lasers and advanced particle weapons, being flown around in spaceships that zip from planet to planet, then to entirely different solar systems. All of this sounds like technology so far in the future that we can only dream of it in books and video games. But how far off is the technology of BattleTech from today’s? The answer may surprise you.

Lasers

Lasers aren’t really a new technology at all. The word laser actually stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”, and it’s been around since the 1960s. Lasers have all sorts of real-world applications, from optical disk drives, to laser printers, to barcode scanners, to fibre-optic cabling, to DNA sequencing, to medical surgery, and even manufacturing and welding. The weaponization of lasers on the other hand hasn’t quite caught up with BattleTech, although we are getting awfully close.

Currently the United States navy has one active laser weapon system in service. The AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System is mounted on the USS Ponce, and while it hasn’t been used in combat, it has been successfully tested against simulated attacks by small boat and unmanned aerial drone. Fans of the MechWarrior games might be a little disappointed though; there’s no flashy green beam that melts whatever it strikes. Instead, it’s just a lens that gets pointed at something, and then that something explodes without any warning or fanfare.

US Navy's New Killer Laser Gun: LaWS Laser Weapon System Live-fire
Watch this video on YouTube.

Particle Projection Cannons

Particle cannons go by many names in the realm of science fiction: phasers, particle accelerator guns, ion cannons, or proton beams just to name a few. The general idea behind them is the same no matter what you call it – super charge a bunch of subatomic particles, and then direct them out at high velocity in as straight a line as you can manage. Those particles then impact the target disrupting its molecular cohesion. Violently.

So far, particle cannons remain firmly in the realm of science fiction. While we can certainly get subatomic particles up to speeds that would be horrifically damaging, it takes an area the size of a small town to get them going that fast. Or maybe not – the SLAC National Accelerator laboratory has reported getting particles up to speed in as little as 30 cm. Miniaturization, and possible weaponization, may be just around the corner.

Gauss Rifles

Gauss rifles, also known as coilguns for reasons that will become evident, use magnetic fields in order to accelerate a projectile up to catastrophic speeds (at least, if you’re on the receiving end). One or more coils (see?) of conductive material is wrapped around a barrel and an enormous amount of electricity is pulsed through them. Inside the barrel is a ferromagnetic projectile that is grabbed by the magnetic fields produced by the coils and then whipped out of the barrel at extreme velocity, like so:

Coilguns are actually nothing new. First patented in 1904 by Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland, Gauss rifles have been around for over a century. Many hobbyists even make them in their garage. So why don’t we see them more often? Well, historically they haven’t been very practical. The energy requirements for military applications of a coilgun are immense, even if you use a small projectile. Consequently they’re just more expensive to operate than regular guns using chemical propellant. However, as superconductive technologies become more readily available, coilguns are getting a second look by militaries around the world.

Why the name Gauss? It’s a reference to Carl Friedrich Gauss, the German mathematician who was one of the founding fathers of the equations governing electromagnetism. He’s no Maxwell, but I guess having a gun named after you is pretty cool.

Myomer Muscles

In case you haven’t clicked the link, Myomer Muscles are what makes ‘Mechs possible. They’re the electroactive material that expands or contracts depending on whether there’s an electric current being run through it – just like the muscles in a human body. When BattleTech was just being born this was all still theoretical, but now it’s crossed from the realm of science fiction into science fact.

The theory behind myomer materials was first laid down in 1880, when Wilhelm Röntgen first conducted an experiment whereby a rubber strip was sprayed with electric charges which caused the charged parts of the rubber to contract. In the 1960’s and 70’s it was discovered that other polymers would react in the same way. Flash forward to today and we now have thin elastic materials that contract with small amounts of electricity, or muscles that are a thousand times more powerful than a person’s. The obvious application would be the replacement of limbs for victims of terrible accidents, but we here at Sarna know the best use would be to make multi-story killer robots.

Fusion Engines

As a gross simplification, fusion power happens when you slam two atomic nuclei together, which produces a brand new atom and energy. A lot of energy. Only problem is, how do you get two atomic nuclei to slam together and stick? Well, there’s lots of different ways ranging from magnetic containment (like in BattleTech), lasers (is there anything they can’t do?), or if you’re really strong you can even pinch ‘em together. Historically, all these methods took far more energy just to get those nuclei to fuse than you got energy in return, making fusion a less than ideal power source.

We’re getting pretty close though. In 2014, the US-based National Ignition Facility produced the first net-gain fusion reaction. Both MIT and Lockheed are working on making compact fusion reactors that will hopefully bring fusion power into the economically viable zone in the next 5 years. How long it will be before we’re able to power giant walking death machines with miniature suns inside is anybody’s guess, but it’s looking like that day will be sooner rather than later.

DropShips

Humanity has had functional space ships for several decades. The Space Shuttle is the most well known craft that has catapulted humanity to the stars, although the Soyuz crafts are by far the most widely used. Both options still had the problem of having non-reusable components; the booster rockets for the Shuttle, and pretty much everything but the crew compartment for the Soyuz.

Sadly, DropShips may be the technology that is furthest away from seeing reality. There are certainly planned refinements to the Soyuz style rocket technology, like the Falcon 9, but so far the enormous energy requirements of getting something as large as a DropShip to space and back is just well beyond our current knowledge. But there is hope –  private companies are developing space planes that are designed to operate both in atmosphere and out. It’s a far cry from being able to take a lance of multi-ton humanoid tanks to the moon and back, but it’s a start.

Kearny Fuschida Jump Drives

Okay, I was wrong – this is actually the furthest away from reality. So far looks like there’s still a lot of complicated math involved before we can travel between the stars.

BattleMechs

I’ve got a surprise for you; they exist! Sure, they don’t have legs, and they’re not powered by a fusion engine, and you don’t need a neurohelmet to control them, but they’re giant robots. And they aren’t just being used in fictional combat – they’re gunna actually fight.

What a time to be alive.

TALON Precision-Guided Rocket- Turning Dumbfire Hydra Rocket Pods into Streak SRM Launchers

Historically, rocket munitions have always been more effective when fired in swarms. From the 15th century Korean Hwatcha rocket propelled arrow launcher to the MLRS or Grad rockets of today to the Itano Circus prevalent in ’80s Sci-Fi anime- and by extension, BattleTech. Rocket swarms can be brutally effective- if a not very efficient means of hitting your target. But those are artillery type weapons. Equipment covered in BattleTech by Arrow IV Missiles. What about something closer in?

The mainstay of western rocket direct-fire weapons for the past 60 years has been the Hydra 70 2.75″ (70mm) rocket pod. The Hydra rocket series weighs in at a hair over 6 kg, has an effective range of 8,000 meters and has an absolutely ridiculous selection of warheads to choose from (19 from the Wikipedia list). White Phosphorus, Flechette, cluster munition, HE, smoke, you name it.

M261 Hydra 70 launch pod with two different munition payloads.

M261 Hydra 70 launch pod with two different munition payloads.

Continue reading

Real World Lasers are getting Smaller, and MEANER

Ever since Jules Verne and H.G. Wells enticed citizens and warmongers alike with talk of energy-based beam weapons, mankind has been struggling to catch up to its own imagination. And naturally, BattleTech is chock full of it – mainly in the form of lasers, and mainly seen from the view of a 1980s-era war game designer as a futuristic weapon.

Which it is… considering that compared to projectile, missile, and even flame weapons, lasers (especially weaponized ones) are to quote Val Kilmer in Real Genius “a young science.”

If only Jordan Weisman and team FASA could have seen the advance of real laser weapons in the past ten years from the ’80s. Israel is probably the most advanced so far, with several types in operation, mainly for air defense. Didn’t think the laser AMS got its start in the 21st century did you? The Iron Beam, as it’s called, is the close-in part of a multi-tiered air defense system called the Iron Dome. Iron Beam is reported to have an 80-90% success rate, and can engage even artillery and mortar shells in mid-flight with “into the hundreds” of kilowatts of energy. It’s essentially a land based version of a laser/projectile defense system like those used on the USS Ponce – which can also engage surface targets. But these are massive units the size of inter-modal shipping trailers. Next up, laser weapons that can be mounted on a light vehicle.

ATHENA: Looks like something you'd fight in MechWarrior IV.

ATHENA: Looks like something you’d fight in MechWarrior IV.

Continue reading

Russia’s Inferno LRM Carrier

I follow world geopolitics pretty intensely. I credit epic, political space opera settings like Dune and, of course, BattleTech for my many years of interest. I was browsing some of the latest Russian shenanigans in Ukraine and Syria when I saw a Russian armored vehicle that made me wonder if they’ve been buying from Quickscell.

The TOS-1 Buratino really is a mobile warcrime waiting to happen, as it uses only incendiary and thermobaric 220mm munitions in the 30-tube launch system. The rockets have a minimum range of 400 meters and a maximum effective range of 3.5km. Short enough of a range that the system and crew are quite protected by the armored chassis of a T-72 MBT. Well armored by artillery standards anyway. This video shows that they can expend their loadout very quickly:

Be afraid, mechwarrior. Be VERY afraid.

Be afraid, mechwarrior. Be VERY afraid.

Continue reading

Man Fitted with Cybernetic Hand Wired Directly into his Brain can ‘Feel’ Again

BattleTech has a lot of amputee characters. Morgan Kell, Justin Allard, Kael Pershaw, Anastasius Focht/ Frederick Steiner, and Grayson Carlyle for instance; driving ‘Mechs is a dangerous business. But in the novels, most of the prosthetics were fairly advanced from a modern viewpoint. The characters could typically receive biofeedback and simulated nerve induction similar to the original limb. Some even had weapons built into them in a manner similar to cyberpunk settings like Neuromancer or Shadowrun.

By contrast, in real life, most prosthetic limbs seem more ornamental than functional. The can be cheaper and useful in the age of 3D printing, but they are still mainly wire and pulley affairs. The few electronic prosthetic limbs out there are usually specially-made affairs so expensive only the super-rich could afford — and are still clumsy and slow.

Hands are more than simple bone and meat clamps to hold things with. The motor cortex of the brain dedicates a full quarter of itself just to hand control- most of which is for fine motor control. The skin of the hands; particularly the fingertips and palms have some of the highest concentrations of nerve endings in the body. Simulating that in a prosthesis has been pretty much impossible. Until now.

Perhaps more refreshing than the water is the sense of accomplishment.

Perhaps more refreshing than the water is the sense of accomplishment in regaining control and a sense of touch.

Continue reading