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Batman meets Iron Man in this high-tech armor

CNN
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 10:36am

If Batman and Iron Man got together in the lab to patch together a new outfit, it might look like this.

Meet the Lorica, a new suit of high-tech armor named after the armor worn by the Roman legions. It's made from a blend of lightweight, flexible materials and comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, a point-of-view camera, a microphone and 52 pressure sensors that send data to an external computer program.

It's built by an Australian company that had real-world warriors, not superheroes, in mind.

The idea? To let martial artists compete at full speed with weapons in much the way bare-fisted fighters currently do in mixed-martial arts competitions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

"We have been overwhelmed," said David Pysden, CEO of Unified Weapons Master, referring to the response from martial artists who have seen the suits.

"We literally have heard from hundreds and hundreds of people who have been practicing for 20 or 30 years in weapons-based arts who have had no true way to test their skills without seriously injuring someone, or worse."

The suit was developed over the course of four years by a team of martial artists and engineers with a digital-tech background. One of the developers is an armorer who helped build more than 2,500 suits of armor for the "Lord of the Rings" movies.

Aside from its obvious role as protection, the suit's key feature is a set of 52 impact sensors spaced throughout. When struck, those sensors transmit data, via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, telling a computer where, and how hard, the blow landed.

"We know the damage that would have occurred to an unprotected competitor if they weren't wearing the suit, and we can display that in real time," Pysden said.

The system would allow fighters in a competition to score points with each successful blow against their opponents while eliminating the guesswork sometimes involved with human judges.

If this all sounds like something you'd love to watch, Pysden and his team hope you're not alone. He said they're currently in talks with several production companies about broadcasting a tournament of weapons masters using the suits. He said the event most likely will occur late this year or in early 2015.

"You look at the popularity of combat sports in video games -- the public loves seeing people fight with weapons," he said. "We can throw a Samurai master against a Chinese Shaolin staff master and see who comes out on top."

The Lorica suits that the company currently showcases online are elaborate prototypes. Pysden wouldn't put a price on the current suits but said ultimately they'd like to offer a simplified, and less expensive, version for sale to the public.

UWM's patent for the suit also lists law-enforcement and military uses, though Pysden says he doesn't expect to ever see soldiers storming the barricades in his armor.

"It's about them using that technology in a training environment," he said. "It's not something to wear out as riot gear -- there's plenty of stuff out there already. This is about teaching them at full speed how to respond to a weapons-based attack."
 

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