Future Tense

Jeff Bezos Takes the Ride of His Life in a Mechanized Robot Suit

Thanks to Jeff Bezos’ company Amazon, those with money to burn have easy access to almost any object they might desire. Some things, however, are still reserved for the lucky few. While attending the Amazon-hosted, invitation-only Machine-Learning, Automation, and Space Exploration conference this week, Bezos took the opportunity to sit in the pilot seat of a 13-foot-tall robot suit. In a picture that he tweeted from the event, the machine’s arms are spread wide, seemingly mimicking the mogul’s own gesture. Bezos grins from the cockpit with the wide smile of a lucky child on Christmas morning.

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As technology blogger Anil Dash joked in a response to Bezos’ tweet, the bald billionaire looks disquietingly like Jeff Bridges’ Iron Man villain:

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Is this the future that we are welcoming? One in which billionaires slug it out via enhanced technology? After the end of environmental safety regulations mutate Donald Trump and his Cabinet, forcing them to reveal their true kaijü forms and leading them to rampage through our cities, will Bezos be the only one who can save us?

OK, maybe not. If the robot suit in question looks like something out of a science fiction movie, that’s no accident. Its designer Vitaly Bulgarov is best known for his work on films such as Transformers: Age of Extinction and the 2014 remake of Robocop. In a 2016 interview with New Atlas, Bulgarov claims, “I tried to avoid looking at any sci-fi robots for inspiration, we wanted to start with a clean slate.” Ultimately, however, he says that the iterative design process led to something that happened to look a lot like the mechanized suits from James Cameron’s film Avatar.

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Still, this isn’t—at least not for now—some combat-ready creation, despite a 2016 article from Quartz that suggests models might be “deployed along the North Korean border as a warning to Kim Jong-un’s regime.” As the Verge’s John Vincent notes in an article about Bezos’ adventure, though the suit definitely can move—videos show the arms waving about in response to the pilot’s gestures—there’s no evidence that it’s capable of exerting real force. “From what we’ve seen of the Method-2 so far, it’s basically a very impressive puppet,” Vincent writes.

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In other words, if you did try to punch something with it, there are decent odds that it would just fall over. Much as it resembles a Summoner OmniMech, it seems unlikely to survive a bout with anything more monstrous than the mechanical dragon horse that performed at the Beijing Olympics.

What is it for, then? Quartz claims, “The mechanical suit will reportedly assist in cleaning up and restoring Fukushima after the 2011 nuclear energy accident.” At this point, even that seems a little optimistic. All we know for sure is that it’s good at one thing: giving very rich men the rides of their lives.

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