Iron Man's suit isn't as science fictional as you might think. Most of its components exist right now in research and development labs. What would it cost Tony Stark today to put them together and become superhuman?
Tony controls his Iron Man suit via a sophisticated helmet-mounted display that is voice-activated. It could easily be compared to helmet-mounted displays currently under development for fighter jets like the F-35. Fighter pilots use these displays to guide their aircraft the way Tony guides his suit. Last year, the companies developing F-35 HMDs announced they would be creating these helmets with a development budget of $54.1 million.
Development cost for a typical HMD for a fighter jet: $54.1 million
Tony's suit is essentially an exoskeleton that gives Iron Man his super strength and maneuverability. Several companies and labs, including those at Raytheon and UC Berkeley, are developing exoskeletons like Tony's that give the wearer additional strength. They are usually designed for soldiers carrying heavy packs, or for disabled people as a replacement for wheelchairs and canes. Possibly the closest to Tony's suit is Raytheon's XOS exoskeleton, which allows the person wearing it to lift 200 lbs. as if they were nothing.
Cost to develop one XOS exoskeleton: $10 million
Portable nuclear power source
Tony's nuke heart can be compared to the energy source in the new Martian rover Curiosity, a nuclear generator called a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG), which will power its large robotic body and lab for years with a small nuclear power source. While the MMRTG with its 10 pounds of plutonium dioxide is bigger than Tony's fist-sized heart, its components are similar enough that we'll make the comparison.
Cost of one MMRTG (according to NASA estimates [PDF]): $36 million
Constructed inside Tony's boots are jets that allow him to fly and hover. While jet packs don't work particularly well, we've seen a few recent successes. Yves Rossy, pictured above, has actually piloted his own jet pack across the English Channel. And there are a few companies selling strap-on jet packs similar to equipment Tony has in his suit. In fact, Jet Pack International will sell you a strap-on jet pack that could potentially be modified to fit inside Tony's boots.
Cost of two jet packs from JetPack (one for each boot): $400,000
Tony's suit is operated by wearable computers that are wired into each body part and controlled from the HMD. Lucky for Tony, wearable computers are pretty cheap. Basically you just take an awesome computer and fit its components into cases that fit into your exoskeleton. Let's assume he wants a few computers, some awesome antennae so he can store shit in the cloud, a few ARM processors, really good hard drives. And let's have him run QNX because that's how Tony rolls. But other than that we're just talking about a really kickass set of secure computers with specialized cases. Sort of like the kinds of wearables that MIT students (like the one above) have been developing for years.
Estimated cost for wearable computers: $20,000
So, what's the final price tag? $100,420,000
To put that in perspective, the cost of the F-35 fighter plane is estimated at $95 to $113 million. So this suit might easily fit in today's military budgets.