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I'm writing a somewhat cyberpunk story and I want to know how things work in that world, even if it is not explained in the story. It was designed as a bit futuristic settings, though some of things they do can already be done in this world.

So, just to explain tech level, some things that are available:

  • GMO-people – illegal, but totally possible, and some successful experiments have been done
  • bionic joints – rather common and are usually installed in case of bad trauma
  • bionic limbs – exist, but are more rare
  • synthetic skin that looks and feels almost like real skin (and provides tactile feedback)
  • HUD that is just a bit bigger than usual glasses (and with real reality augmentation, not just a small image at the corner)
  • small, one-person aircraft with bird-like flight mechanic, controlled by body motion (really new development, not so long ago was thought to be impossible)
  • and more cool gadgets, I'll try to remember some and add later.

One of the characters wears a suit made of individual scales. This suit provides some data, like heartbeat and such and can register injuries. Its "brain" is enclosed in a vambrace which also (supposedly) contains some power source. The suit also can protect its wearer from sliding knife hit (no from direct one). I guess it's made of some fancy polymer, maybe graphene covered or with nano-wiring. It is light (you could wear it whole day and it would be OK and doesn't restrict movement.

Now the difficult part: suit can be completely disassembled to individual scales and then assembled back (it won't be so easy though, imagine a human-size jigsaw), but anyway, you can unfasten it the way you need and all. And if some scales get broken, they can be replaced with new ones.

This means that scales must be held together strong enough, but yet be easy to take apart if you know how. The question is: how can this be done?

So far I thought of

  • magnetic/electromagnetic system that holds scales together. But it seems over-complicated and not very reliable. And it's not clear if it would be bad for health to wear such a magnetic thing.
  • some mechanic way to lock the scales, but all I came up with is either too difficult to disassemble or not reliable enough.

UPD:

Cloth backing isn't a good idea because if suit gets damaged (e.g. shot through), you will need to somehow mend the cloth, so just changing a scale or two won't be so easy. Some cloth suit beneath the scaled one is possible though.

Crucial moment with disassembling or unfastening the suit: it is intended that you can fasten and unfasten it without any instrument (maybe with just one small tool) as the suit doesn't have any other way to be put on or taken off but by partial disassembling.

UPD2:

Please, no unobtanium-based stuff. And definitely no GM-creatures. It should be somewhere between "a semi-working prototype of this already exists" and "We don't have quite the technology needed for this, but it's clear what is needed and looks achievable in some 10 years if we put our mind to it." Graphene – hell yes, we have it, and we use it already, and any plausible usage of it is absolutely OK. Some sort of fungus infused with insect DNA to give it a chitin coating and octopus DNA so that it has tiny tentacles – big no-no.

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  • $\begingroup$ Scale armor has been used for thousands of years. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 18 '17 at 2:00
  • $\begingroup$ GM people are already a thing as well $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Jan 18 '17 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix yeah, but it wasn't a thing when I started writing... $\endgroup$
    – Alissa
    Jan 18 '17 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Alissa, the trouble with writing for future tech is that sometimes the future overtakes you $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Jan 18 '17 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix I can still say it's somewhat alternative reality :) $\endgroup$
    – Alissa
    Jan 18 '17 at 11:57
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Without a cloth backing of any kind?

The simplest way to do it would be to have a set of locking rings (or potentially even small chains or elastic super duper nanofibers) flexibly attached to the back of each scale and assembled like chainmail. If the scales are large enough overlap when they are locked together then a suit of this scale mail can be rapidly (in relative terms, it still depends on the size of the scales) assembled with no need for anything but a set of pliers.

There are three issues with this:

1: Comfort: You'd either need a second backing layer or some way to make sure that the interlocking mechanisms don't chafe along the skin. Having a smaller second 'comfort' scale attached to the underside of the first (so the locking mechanism is between a large armour scale and a smaller comfort scale) might help with this, or if the locking mechanism is fine enough that it acts like a fabric. Bear in mind that the smaller and more fiddly the locking mechanism is the longer the armour will take to assemble/dissemble, to the point where you may need some form of assembly machine.

2: Design strength: Mostly by this I mean that the scales will (by necessity) have gaps between them. This is a flaw common to any scale mail, as the scales have to move over each other freely, and with no backing layer to absorb impact under the scales (aside from that created by the locking/comfort layers) your armour is suffering from a fatal flaw if you want it to perform well in a knife fight. If the locking layer is strong enough to turn a blade that slips under a scale (again, like chainmail) then this is ameliorated somewhat.

3: Weight: A strong mechanical locking mechanism that humans can interact with could increase the weight of the armour overall, though with some of the compounds that you're proposing using I'm sure you can find/create a suitable polymer.

My suggestion for a locking mechanism would essentially be a series of data cables, covered in a very strong woven sheathing and using a male connector, that can be locked together using a female-female interface unit that also doubles as the comfort layer (i.e. has a smaller comfortable scale on the underside. This gives the suit flexibility, data transfer capability, a more comfortable wear and makes it nice and simple for laymen to replace damaged scales. Using multiple data cables and treating each scale as a node increases redundancy in the suit. Couple the cable with a mechanical retraction mechanism and you can even ensure a tight fit to reduce the potential gapping of the scales even if the suit loses power.

Again: The smaller you make the scales/connections the harder it will be to mess about with this suit, and the wearer will have to remove the suit to get at the connections, so this probably isn't the best idea if you want parts of the suit to be hot-swappable in combat situations.

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  • $\begingroup$ Design strength is not a big issue, as the suit mostly protects from glancing strikes (not sure how is it properly called). And there can be some thin clothing worn beneath the suit. I o very much like your idea of locking mechanism being combined with wiring connectors. Thank you very much. $\endgroup$
    – Alissa
    Jan 18 '17 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ Just a small nitpick : scalemail is not a thing. Scale armour, on the other hand... $\endgroup$
    – karhell
    Jan 18 '17 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ @karhell: The use of scale mail was deliberate here, as the scales aren't fixed as a single piece of scale armour, but are instead connected in a manner more reminiscent of chainmail. Hence: Scale mail. :-D $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Jan 18 '17 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs : Yeah, I can kind of see your argument here, but chainmail is already a pretty dubious term. I guess the core of my problem is the use of "mail" as a synonym for "any kind of armour" where it actually means "a mesh of interlocking metal rings". That said, it doesn't change the fact that your answer is pretty damn good and gets my +1 all the same :) $\endgroup$
    – karhell
    Jan 18 '17 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ @karhell: I agree. I used mail specifically because the simplest locking system for this armour is a series of rings (hence 'mail') and there are scales involved. If the locking layer is more like a series of cables then I suppose a better term would be scale-weave??? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Jan 18 '17 at 16:12
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I would suggest Chinese Mountain Armor or Shan Wen Kia design leaf scale coupled with a robotic/ computerised assembly tool. Here's a link to some guys in the SCA discussing how they are making some of this - with pictures: http://forums.armourarchive.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=105720

Some kind of incredibly tough nanomaterial for the actual scales - and a locking pin holding each one onto the base cloth.

I would be suggesting not every scale provides data - only some of them - but every scale passes data & power. That way there would be multiple pathways for the data to get to the vambrace.

The tech level you describe seems to make it a natural thought that a custom manufacturing/ computer controlled nanofactory would be able to handle the assembly/ repair of such a suit.

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  • $\begingroup$ Any ideas on easy assembling/disassembling? (see post update) $\endgroup$
    – Alissa
    Jan 18 '17 at 11:46
  • $\begingroup$ You have Updated to say not wanting Cloth backing AND the ability to manually separate/ disassemble. $\endgroup$
    – kiltannen
    Jan 21 '17 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ HMMM. So - Adrian Suggested above a living thing. I think this has REAL Promise. A custom designed GM Creature that has a Keratin outgrowth that is intensively hardened until it is very hard to penetrate in the right shape for interlocking (Possibly the Mountain Leaf style I mentioned) A soft underside that makes it comfortable to wear AND a single muscle that creates an interlock with a second Keratin growth. You could then have a device when touched to the right spot tells the scale to let go. - I'd have it be contained in a 2 part ring that can be activated by a simple twist $\endgroup$
    – kiltannen
    Jan 21 '17 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ Basically two rings that are kind of locked together but one will spin against the other if twisted. This avoids having your wearer accidentally telling some scales to drop off by brushing their hand over them. You can also have one position tell the scale to let go - and the other tell the scale to hold on. ALTHOUGH - I would probably take the approach of "Holding On" being a reflex action by the scale when put in the right place/ position against another matching scale. You would still have only a few specialised scales grabbing your sensory data - and all of them passing it along $\endgroup$
    – kiltannen
    Jan 21 '17 at 22:23
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Another invention - "muscular skin", fibrils normally contracted and desiccated when dormant - which is their "use state". The fibrils relax upon feeding with a special nutrient (feed can only be administrated within a narrowish temperature range/env conditions) and when relaxed the scale can be easily extracted - but is not loose enough to fall on it's own.

The skin also require feeding periodically (every 2-3 days?), otherwise the wear cause by the relative movement/friction will cause the skin to tear.

Bonus - make the scales a by-product of the skin metabolism, something like hair/nails (keratin or chitin stuff).

Advanced scenario - make it a living thing in symbiosis with the wearer and feeding from the wearer's blood stream. The skin is grown specially for the host, cannot change the her/him on the danger of anaphylactic shock for both the host and the skin within minutes. If you can give the skin some nervous system enough for perception, instincts and reaction (toughen when detects fear, amplify the strength of fast movements, etc), such a skin would try to protect the wearer as the only source of food.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is an interesting idea, but it's not quite clear what can be done if the thing get damaged. Should it have some advanced regeneration abilities? And should its regeneration be somehow guided to grow it back exactly like it was? $\endgroup$
    – Alissa
    Jan 18 '17 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ " but it's not quite clear what can be done if the thing get damaged." Oh, come on. Let your imagination run wild, really. What I'm describing doesn't actually exists, so feel free to imagine the thing the way you like it. How would you repair a scale armour made from two-way shape-memory alloy? Or, if you have dog/wolf friend so dedicated to you that would defend you against any aggression, what would you do if it would be wounded while doing so? $\endgroup$ Jan 18 '17 at 12:51
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As several other answers have already pointed out, having the scales link together is the simplest method that covers all your needs. The interesting part is making it simple to remove and replace individual units. Where I think the other answers fall short is in not recognizing that, in a Cyberpunk setting, we don't have to really care about real-world feasibility. CP is science fantasy for the most part after all.

(I know. You said near future. But look around at the world, check out what people are doing with things like graphene, aerogels, nano-mechanics and so on. Perhaps this isn't quite as far-fetched as it looks.)

First, each component 'scale' of your armor is a complex piece of engineering assembled from ultra-high tech components. It has a polymantane diamandoid outer layer for straight up protection over a honeycomb graphene lattice for structural rigidity. The lattice is filled with aerogel capsules for protection against thermal attacks, suspended in a high temperature ballistic gel to disperse kinetic and sonic energy attacks. At the back of the component is a thin layer of nano-scale mechanical engineering that includes a rudimentary computer powered by body heat and piezo crystal effects as well as a set of articulated interlink structures. And finally at the back of the piece is a padded section that makes it comfortable to wear directly on natural skin as well as using embedded systems to generate the small amount of power required to run the compute block.

In short, it's a piece of experimental corp tech from way beyond the bleeding edge. This is Diamond Age tech in a silicon and super-chrome world.

The limitations on the system are that each scale has only a tiny amount of compute, and almost all of it is devoted to the job of attaching to its neighbors in a flexible fashion that allows for natural motion, ensuring that the occupant of the suit is able to move around freely. All of the components are lightweight and have about the same processing power as the average ant. What you're wearing isn't so much a collection of individual units as it is a swarm programmed to act like a suit of armor.

The 'bracer' is the brains of the whole operation. It contains the sensor suite and control gear that allows the rest of the suit to function the way you need it to... especially with regards to disassembling or reconfiguring the suit as needed. It uses low powered ultra-high frequency sonics (in the 80kHz+ range) to communicate with the nearby components, with a very simple set of commands for specific behaviors. It also receives data from the suit's components, allowing it to monitor all sorts of interesting things including suit geometry, user telemetry and so on and presents a user interface - probably through direct neural interface - that provides that information to the operator.

There are some specialized components for various functions, including ones that have larger sensor and compute packages for monitoring user health, providing visual data in all directions, radar mapping and so on. These components may be larger or sacrifice protection for additional functionality. You could also have decentralized compute nodes that spread the computational load for suit functions around different parts of the body.

Let's see if we've covered all the requirements...

  • Blade Deflection - yep, diamondoid is pretty robust stuff.
  • Disassembly - just have the controller send a deactivate to the whole thing and it'll literally fall right off.
  • Unzipping - again, just a matter of telling a set of components to unbind.
  • Replaceable Components - assuming you have access to spares or a fabricator unit for them, no problem.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle - oh yeah, big time. Fortunately they're smart puzzle pieces, so that's not too big of an issue.

And let's not forget the classic First Rule of Cyberpunk: Style over Substance. This thing looks like a suit of rainbow-hued scales that sparkle in the light and is basically immune to anything not designed to take down a raging cyborg. All it needs now is a suite of cleaning nanites and it's the most beautiful piece of armor you'll ever drop 25 million Nuyen on, chummer. You'll be the envy of every razor girl and street sam from here to Chiba. I've even got a couple bright kids working on a nanofab template to replicate the scales, so you come right back here when you need replacements. I'll even give you a discount on the first batch.


Oh, you thought that was the end of it? You clearly don't know how badly the corps want this tech back. The runner who jacked the control unit specs left a logic bomb in their system that wiped out months worth of R&D. And they're not the only ones that want a piece of you... corporate rivals, mercs, other denizens of the neon streets, crime syndicates, even some government agencies... hey, welcome to the dystopia.

The one thing this suit doesn't have is stealth. You're going to want to cover it up or everyone is going to be jumping at the chance to cash in on the bounty. Even if you're working for the corp that developed the gear the rest of the world is interested, and they don't need you alive. I hope you've got some top-notch data cowboys watching your back, and you'd better make sure your team are trustworthy as all hell.

The downside of the concept is that a sufficiently motivated and resourced opponent can always hack your interface and take control of the suit away from you. Experimental gear is notoriously insecure, so there's bound to be a thousand points of entry for a talented console jockey to exploit. Or worse, an AI could take an interest and decide to take the suit - and you with it - for a ride. Hope your firewalls are secure.

And just in case you're not working for the corp that created the suit, you might want to be on the lookout for people carrying weird sonic weapons. There's always the chance that they embedded a kill switch in the system that will make the whole suit fall off at the worst possible moment, leaving you standing in the middle of a firefight in your underwear. Probably something you want to avoid.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, man. I see your fantasy ran wild indeed. I might have misused the word cyberpunk, my fault. But no, I'm not writing science fantasy, and I definitely do not want any unobtanium-like substances that have just the properties I need. My goal is to have all the tech to be somewhere betwen "we already have a semi-working prototype for that" and "oh, yeah, I see how it can be done, even though we don't have the tools yet". Not "well, if you have a material that defies laws of physics... But then what science are we talking about?" $\endgroup$
    – Alissa
    Oct 14 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ It's a great answer - no unobtainium about it. You could do anything with graphene if you could do anything with graphene. The Chinese will write all about it in a patent application sooner than you think. $\endgroup$ Oct 14 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Alissa I like to push things out there a bit, but the only thing currently 'out there' is the nano-mechanical computing (and the DNI, but that's not required). It's still in its' infancy at the moment, but it's viable. As for the rest... graphene is new but real, and polymantane diamandoid isn't even that new. Hard to work with, but not new. The rest is just engineering. There are better, far cheaper ways to make armor, that's all. $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Oct 14 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeSerfas I know, right? There are people around the world working on all the parts, even the really CP bits like DNI and nanocomputing. Who knew (apart from Neal Stephenson) that diamond would be the material of the new millennium? $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Oct 14 at 21:47
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As far as cloth backing doesn't suit lamellar armor may. Edit: this sort of armor consists of thousands of small plates laced together via cord. It is easy to assemble/disassemble. Lacing allows plates to move, overlaping provides reasonable protection. It can be penetrated either if you can penetrate plate itself or if something can get between two plates, which is not so easy.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hey there @ZmitserJaphimic and welcome to WB.SE. Your answer shows potential but it is very short and if the link gets taken down it won't be of much use. Please take some time to describe what you're linking to and maybe explain why it may fit the bill. Cheers :) $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Jan 20 '17 at 8:36
  • $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T I extended my answer as you suggested $\endgroup$ Jan 20 '17 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for suggestion. It is indeed easy to disassemble, but you can't "unzip" it wherever you need to. Which is important. $\endgroup$
    – Alissa
    Oct 14 at 15:21
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How about having a hinged portion at the top of the scales that clip together horizontally and vertically. Whatever electrical-like connection you need could easily be supplied by sockets in the connectors. You could optionally have disassembly require a special tool, or just a toothpick.

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