Could Man Actually Build Pacific Rim's Giant Robots?

Image credit: 
Warner Bros.

By Keith Wagstaff

Today, Guillermo del Toro’s epic new monsters-versus-robots movie Pacific Rim hits theaters. The summer sci-fi flick is already getting great reviews, scoring 82 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and even getting a thumbs-up from Mr. Kanye West:

The premise, more or less, is that giant monsters invade earth and humans build equally giant robots to engage them in hand-to-claw combat. If you grew up watching TV shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion or Robotech, the idea of kicking butt in a massive robot suit has been a dream of yours for a long time. But could humans ever actually build something like the mechanized Jaegers in Pacific Rim?

First, you have to accept the premise that instead of pouring resources into building a super-powerful missile, mankind's greatest scientists would instead build oversized robots. The featurette below suggests each Jaeger is about 250 feet tall from head to toe. Rhett Allain at Wired—who has answered such pressing questions as "How strong is a hobbit?"—puts the likely mass of the Jaeger at 9.6 x 10^6 kilograms, just above 21 million pounds.

That is, obviously, far bigger than any vehicle humans have ever built, save for aircraft carriers, which have the advantage of floating in seawater. A 25-story-tall robot would be far too heavy to function even at a basic level, writes George Dvorsky in io9:

Assuming strong, lightweight materials could be developed, the sheer enormity of its moving appendages would still cause tremendous strain on its mechanical parts. Managing all the various dynamics involved, including the robot's velocity, acceleration, momentum, heat dissipation, and internal torque, would likely be completely untenable. Even if such a thing could be built, it would likely have to move at an agonizingly impractical slow pace. [io9]

Suffice it to say, they couldn't run or jump or do anything they can do in Pacific Rim. In fact, as Dvorsky notes, with current technology they would probably collapse in on themselves or blow over in high winds.

Luckily for humanity, the movie's humongous monsters, known in Japanese pop culture as kaiju, probably couldn't exist either, due to the fact that their skeletons, muscles, and internal organs wouldn't be able to handle that much weight.

"The epic battle between giant robot and giant monster?" writes Movieline's Ross A. Lincoln. "In real life it's going to involve a fragile robot sunk waist-deep in the ground, punching slowly and feebly at a heart attack-suffering reptile reduced to the humiliation of using a skyscraper-sized mobility scooter just to forage for food."

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July 12, 2013 - 9:30am
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