A Brief History of Auto-Armor

The history of dieseltech auto-armor is intimately entwined with the history of dieseltech itself, though the earliest precursors of the suits actually date back to construction equipment of the late steamtech era. Man amplifier development lay at the intersection of numerous competing economic, logistical, technical, and even political considerations of the day, which must each be understood in detail to gain a full view.  

The Steamtech Age

by Moran
The concept of man amplifiers date back to at least the year 9670 AX with the invention of early modern mechanical computers. Up until this point, steam engines (which had been invented 40 years prior by scientists and engineers at the Voxelia Academy of Sciences) were primarily used for simple, blunt production of torques and recriprocating motions in industrial machinery. With the advent of computers, however, it became clear that steam and pneumatic pressure could be applied to increasingly more complex tasks, including the pre-programmed or controlled movement of armatures. Steam engines were bulky and hungry for fuel and water, but they could move heavier loads and move them much farther than any animal or human could; the real problem, then, was fine control, and computers proved that such matters could readily be solved with the technolgies of the day.   Subsequently, there was an explosion of steam-powered construction equipment in the late 9600's and early 9700's. Such equipment was generally animated by pneumatic or hydraulic linear actuators which were, in turn, pressurized by an external, steam-powered compressor. It was known by this time that electric dynamos (invented in 9670 AX) could be used not only to create electrical currents from supplied mechanical motion but also to create motion from supplied electric currents. Even so, dynamos were (and still are, as of the year 10,000 AR) not nearly as efficient or forceful as direct mechanical, pneumatic, or hydraulic actuators. Furthermore, such dynamos tended to be bulky devices that needed to be driven by steam engines to provide electricity on an industrial scale. This issue of bulk is a relevant consideration with regards to production auto-armor, as the defining benefit of auto-armor is mobility under heavy load conditions; the matter of weight and mobility would also later mean that lightweight pneumatic artificial muscles would be favored over slow, bulky pneumatic actuators. Because of all of these factors, armatures smaller than railroad trains would have to wait for further advancements.  

Enter Dieseltech

The invention of the internal combustion engine by the Voxelian steamtech engineer Caelus Harkon in the year 9800 AX revolutionized all aspects of infrastructure, industry, and travel - to the extent that it actually brought the Age of Exploration to a close and ushered in the Age of Reclaimation. Internal combustion engines, though bulky at the time, had significantly better power-to-weight and power-to-volume ratios than their steam equivalents. Furthermore, liquid cooling notwithstanding, internal combustion engines require little (or no) bulky water reservoirs to function. Biodiesel has the important distinction of coming in a convenient liquid form, as opposed to the large bundles of wood or cartfulls of coal used to power steam engines. Lastly, with the development of fuel biosynthesis, biodiesel could fit in well with a useful part of the all-encompassing waste reclaimation culture required for Manifold-bound cultures to continue growing and thriving. Suffice it to say, internal combustion engines killed many corners of the steam engine market practically overnight, though steamtech would limp on in other forms for many years afterward.  
NH 43901 by U.S. Navy
Diesel engines allowed for smaller motorized vehicles to be created and, with the exception of diesel generators and certain pneumatic tools (i.e. the jackhammer), granted freedom from vehicle-mounted external power sources. Suddenly, a power source that previously took up an entire locomotive could be so compact that it could fit on an automobile or airship, starting a new age of long-distance travel and exploration. Still, there were certain physical limitations on just how small a diesel engine or generator could become.   Diesel engines, by-and-large, rely on adiabatic processess: heat is generated within the system, not provided from the outside. The mechanical compression of a fuel-air mixture creates the heat (in accordance with the gas laws of physics) which ignites the mixture, converting the chemical energy stored in the mixture into useful kinetic energy and heat. Heat plugs are sometimes used to aid in this process, but spark plugs are generally only found in gasoline engines; while biogas did exist during the early dieseltech era, it was more convenient on an economic level to set a single, unified standard for the grade of fuel used in non-specialty engines, meaning that most fuel was of the biodiesel variety. Most dieseltech devices of the 9800's stood up to the pressures and vibration involved with diesel combustion through thick metal casings, reinforcing gussets, and counterbalancers, all of which added weight - and, therefore, precluded these engines from man-portable applications.  

Wartime Considerations

The War of Reunification began at the very end of the 99th century AR, throwing the already contentious Breadbasket Cubes into turmoil as Voxelia and the Coalition of Breakaway Colonies butted heads over limited resources and cultural divisions going all the way back to ancient times. With the war came the age of armored vehicle doctrines - which was almost over before it began. Dieseltech tanks have the advantage of awesome battlefield mobility and armor staunch enough to withstand most small arms fire, but the unusual geometries of the Manifold Sky - namely the presence of edge mountain ranges and vertex peaks which divide one face of a cube from another along with the difficulties involved with crossing between cubes - make going on the offensive with tanks somewhat difficult. Aircraft are effective at clearing ground for militaries and reaching out to far-flung tesseracts to take flanks or attack trade routes, but ground troops and armor are needed to hold any gains made.   Thus, there was a rising desire for some sort of intermedite-sized piece of armor that was mobile enough to take the fight to enemies tucked into rough terrain (like a motorcycle or autogyro) but sturdy enough to weather sustained small arms fire (like a tank). What the factions wanted was auto-armor, and science was about to give it to them.  


By the 9910's, the ancestors of the modern utility skeleton were already appearing at construction sites, mines, factories, and hospitals, only distinguished from true auto-armor by a limited roaming range due to the need for an external pneumatic tether. Before the utility skeleton, a man would have to be completely dedicated to carrying a riveter or jackhammer or power wrench; afterwards, he could hold a beam up with one hand while pounding rivets in with the other. The prototypical 'balloon suit' that underlies modern suits of auto-armor was already a common sight in this milieu. The technology was already proven, but the logistics of the thing were still at issue - experiments in attaching a dieseltech generator or compressor to such machines had thus far proven failures, as the need for reinforcement made these suits still to bulky to carry combat-useful loadouts (armor, weapons, etc). Then, in 9921 AR, metallurgists in the Free Faces League discovered the material which would solve the problem of weight for dieseltech devices.   Endurastahl is a ceramic alloy notable for its exceptional hardness. While brittle on its own, endurastahl is typically applied as a series of coatings to machine components to enhance structural strength and provide superior wear resistance; softer 'break in' metals are then overlaid on the endurastahl layer to protect such coated components from the danger of ceramic flaking. By using these metal composites in lieu of pure steel, pressure vessels and combustion chambers could be created with a fraction of the weight. Combined with new engine geometries (i.e. rotary trochoid engines) to reduce unneccessary mass and volume, the incorporation of endurastahl composites created the technological conditions for independently operating auto-armor to come about.  

First Steps

League Dieseltech Armory by BCGR_Wurth
League Dieseltech Armory created the PBA-1 "Pioneer" Main Battle Auto-Armor as a utility skeleton-based experimental in the year 9925 AR under a defense contract from the Coalition Defense Forces. This early Pioneer suit was cumbersome under it's load of two inch thick steel plate, but it was virtually impervious to the low-velocity firearms of the era, provoking immediate interest from armed forces both within the Coalition and abroad. The PBA-2 was a refinement on the original design in all respects, with further reduced engine mass allowing the machine to actually field a loaded crew-served weapon, and was shared with other Coalition members for mutual defensive benefit.   The Grand Army of Voxelia successfully captured a Pioneer in 9928 AR and reverse-engineered it, creating their own PM "Paladin" Main Battle Auto-Armor two years later. Hazardous-condition salvage reclamation techs would later scavenge downed auto-armor suits, including engines, and spread the knowledge of endurastahl far and wide through the grey markets associated with their profession. This lead to a rapid proliferation of auto-armor and lightweight dieseltech devices in general throughout the Manifold, with the Navigator's Guild, Rostran Archipelago Confederacy, and Petalcap Vale being early adopters of this second generation of auto-armors.  

Future Iterations

As of the year 10,000 AR, auto-armor is one of the most lucrative development targets for the military-industrial complex, following only aerospace development in terms of total contract value across all manufacturers. Specialized auto-armor variants have been developed to fill many military, industrial, scientific, and logistical roles - from the environmentally-sealed HC-1 "Meantwig" Hazardous Condition Auto-Armor to the devastating "Ixulova Tun" Amphibious Assault Auto-Armor to the versatile DEL-1 "Concertina" Support Auto-Armor.   Future advancements in life support, fuel economy, and durability, as seen in the Keysuit, promise to greatly extend the operational endurance of auto-armor. While there exists a desire in some parts of the industry to greatly increase the size of production auto-armor unites - for example, in the case of the BF-6 "Fortress" Mobile Stronghold Auto-Armor - mobility remains the animating consideration behind auto-armor design. The presence of new armor-penetrating guns and explosives on the battlefield has begun to cause developers to shift attention away from the monolithic armor metagame of yesteryear. Cutting-edge technologies in this space include the styptic gel undersuit layers and self-healing, resin-infused armor under development by the Ghostleaf Foundation, integrated mobility tools like auto-stilts and micro-gravity maneuver packs (as employed by the KF "Knave" Fast Attack Auto-Armor and NavGuard armored forces respectively), and even shoulder-mounted anti-ordinance guns. While there are many avenues of research, only time will tell what the 'next big thing' will be in the auto-armor industry.

Cover image: by Hoover Tung


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