Superheros unite in the form of wax figures at Madame Tussauds wax museum in New York.Nancy Kaszerman/ZUMA Press/Corbis
Superheroes have captured our imaginations for decades. Most get their powers in some unlikely way. Peter Parker, for example, was changed into Spider Man by the bite of a radioactive spider. Bruce Banner became the hulk after standing too close to a nuclear explosion. Some, though, get their powers via technology: Iron Man has powered armor and Batman has a host of cool gadgets. Here's a look at 10 technologies that could give people the powers of their favorite superheroes.
Yves Rossy uses a jetpack-like system to fly like a birdCourtesy Yves Rossy
Getting to a crime scene super fast is essential and flight is one of the best methods of transportation for a superhero. Mere mortal Yves Rossy, the Swiss pilot and inventor otherwise known as Jetman, has achieved this power where others have failed. He designed a jetpack-like system that's comprised of a pair carbon-fiber wings powered by four modified jet engines. Wearing them, he's flown over the English Channel and most recently at the New Zealand International Air Show. It takes special training to maneuver the jet-wing and Rossy needs a parachute to land. But he's in a league of his own and a superhero by all accounts.
Exoskeletons assist movement and allow people to run farther and lift heavier loads. Lockheed Martin
Iron Man has his power suit. For the rest of us, a powered exoskeleton will have to suffice. The Department of Defense has demonstrated some prototypes that assist movement and allow people to run farther and lift heavier loads. Those abilities are useful to soldiers in remote areas where cranes or forklifts can't go. Exoskeletons can even help paralyzed people walk. Some of the latest designs are made from soft materials, making them lighter and easier to use.
An armband reads electrical activity in the forearm muscles as the user gestures and translates that into a computer control. Thalmic Labs
Marvel Comics' character Phoenix moves solid objects with a wave of her hand. Canadian startup Thalmic Labs has come up with a computer interface that allows the wearer to control computers and even drones with the wave of an arm. The control is in an armband that reads electrical activity in the forearm muscles as the user gestures. Gesture control is becoming more and more common thanks to the Kinect and cameras that track users and translate their body motion into a computer command.
The NYPD is testing terahertz scanners to see whether a suspect is carrying a hidden weapon. Courtesy NYPD
Superman doesn't need anything but his eyes to see through walls. We non-Kryptonians have to use imaging machines that rely on X rays or terahertz waves to see through solid objects. Currently, those machines are in hospitals and allow doctors to see solid bones through not-so-solid flesh. But researchers at MIT have developed a device that would allow soldiers to see solid objects behind other solid objects, giving them Superman-like X-ray vision.
The New York Police Department has plans to use terahertz scanners in order to see whether a suspect is carrying a weapon. Even smartphones may soon come with terahertz cameras, giving the average person super vision.
Nathan Landy and David Smith built a device that has a surface with tiny corrugations. The corrugations bend radio waves around an object, rendering the object invisible to detectors.Duke University Photography
The Fantastic Four's Invisible Woman can vanish from sight in the blink of an eye. The technology to make objects, people and even sound disappear is being worked on in laboratories now. It involves a special kind of material called a metamaterial, which has a microscopic surface engineered to bend light waves or sound waves around solid objects, making them invisible. Invisibility cloaks could soon be wearable.
When frail human Steve Rogers was injected with a super serum, he became Captain America, the ultimate specimen of human perfection.Rodrigo Reyes Marin/AFLO/Nippon News/Corbis
Captain America became the ultimate in human physical perfection because he was injected with a "Super-Soldier" serum and then was zapped with "via-rays." The Department of Defense is actually working on a project that sounds quite similar -- minus the via rays. In the early part of the decade, researchers were investigating how to build a "Metabolically Dominant Soldier." Certain drugs could allow a person to could go for days without food, for example.
One drug company, Rinat (later acquired by Pfizer) was working on a "pain vaccine" that would basically make soldiers impervious to pain for weeks on end. (That research eventually led to trials of a new arthritis drug, Tanezumab). Genetic engineering and gene therapy may also lead to soldiers that sleep less or have better control of their body temperature.
When DC Comics WaveRider used a time machine to travel back to the past, he was merged with the time stream and gained the ability to travel through time at his own free will and to predict a person's future.Wikimedia Commons
DC Comics' WaveRider and Marvel Comics' Doctor Strange are able to predict the future. Doctor Strange uses artifacts to augment his superpowers. You just need a supercomputer. Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign used a supercomputer to predict social changes in Egypt. The research focused on monitoring news coverage and looking at its tone to see how close a local leader was to getting toppled.
Meanwhile, IBM already offers a system for crime prediction that uses statistical modeling based on past crime and arrest data. In 2010, the company applied its software to modeling the future behavior of people in Florida's juvenile justice system.
Liquid armor is lightweight and shields mortals from deathly impacts.BAE Systems
Many superheros are bulletproof -- the Hulk and Superman, for example. But humans need body armor. In recent years, body armor has gone beyond Kevlar vests to lightweight suits infused with gels that harden on impact. The gels are made from a substance called Shear Thickening Liquid, which has special particles that are freely suspended. When the liquid is disturbed suddenly with a great force, the particles "lock" together. A bullet hitting fabric containing his liquid absorbs the impact energy and hardens immediately.
Tiny, autonomous drug delivering particles would be injected into a person's bloodstream where they'd deliver molecules of medication anywhere in the body. E.M. Pasieka/Science Photo Library/Corbis
Wolverine is a mutant and because of that, he never has to worry about getting sick. For the rest of us, disease and illness can turn the strongest brute into a baby. Although medicines such as antibiotics help, they are reaching their limits. Bacteria evolve new ways to elude drugs and render them ineffective. Nanotechnology could offer a unique way to battle these bacterial villains.
Researchers in DARPA's “Rapidly Adaptable Nanotherapeutics” are creating therapeutic nanoparticles to target genetically engineered bioweapons. The idea is to inject tiny, autonomous drug-delivering particles into a person's bloodstream and have those particles deliver molecules of medication anywhere in the body. The "medicine" would be comprised of molecules designed to target and shut down specific genes that would normally be affected by toxins.
Oh to breathe in a fish's garden.Zena Holloway/Corbis
Aquaman and the Sub-Mariner can reach great depths without SCUBA gear. Now there are several patents for systems to let air-breathers do the same. One method is through a diving suit that allows the wearer to breathe highly oxygenated liquid. The technique has already been used to treat premature infants and people with serious respiratory problems. Another method is using a kind of "artificial gill" to pull dissolved oxygen directly from the water, just like a fish.