While designing a Mecha for my universe I stoped really quickly when I was thinking about the optics.

Cockpit Design

Its a "Gear", VOTMS, "Wanzer" sized Mecha 4-6m the pilot sits in a cramped position in the chest and uses a kind of VR optic. It is encased in armor and is isolated and sealed to the environment.

Clarification This Mecha is mainly designed to be dropped via air. Its main goal is the assistance of friendly infantry or to stop enemy advances when the line is breached. In the later option those ACFs (Armored Cavalry Frames) - have priority Close Air Support or Close Artillery Support to accomplish their mission.

sketch: enter image description here

Options for Sensors

The main optic is situated in a "head like" mount above the pilots head. In smaller Mechas the head of the pilot might even be inside. When the pilot moves his head the Mecha-Head follows. Similar to the TADS of a Apache.

Addition based on Answers The optic provide zoomed high resolution pictures - IR and a low resolution light amplification.

Three Chameleon styled "eyes" are situated in the torso (left, right, back) those are computer controlled and provide a 360° situational picture. that could be blended into the pilots VR environment.

the third device is a telescopic boom in the back, combined with a LIDAR system the boom is used when the ACF goes hull down for better cover.


Help me to analyze possible advantage and drawbacks of each system. Reminder currently each of those three systems work different - there is no real redundancy. A more specific question might be: Is the choice of optic depended from the mission of a ACF? Can a ACF configured for Urban Combat use the same optic devices in the same locations as a ACF configured for Anti Tank / Sniping?


closed as primarily opinion-based by sphennings, Ash, L.Dutch, MichaelK, Aify Sep 20 '17 at 17:10

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Cameras can be pretty small. So there is no real reason to have a sensor head on top of the shoulders at all. $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Sep 20 '17 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ ...except that the head contains the highest vantage point. If you actually have a combat ready mech that isn't useless against a tank (it probably would be), then cameras would be placed everywhere it is useful to do so. You'd want multiple vantages and backups high, low and behind. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Sep 21 '17 at 6:11

I'll be frank: I see no way how mechs could realistically be anything but police vehicles or terror weapons, but if you want them as fighting vehicles, here's how I suggest you handle sensors:

Use non-movable head with full sphere imaging, analysing full image, but showing only relevant part to the pilot.

You referenced Apache attack helicopter, and so I would like to point you towards Apache longbow (D) version. It includes radar dome above rotor.

Israeli Apache Longbow in flight


Because that way helicopter can peek over obstacle without exposing entire frame. It's similar to concept of turret-down in tanks - tank exposes turret mounted optics to peek over obstacles without exposing turret or hull.

Drawings presenting turret-down and hull-down.

Tangentially related concept is hull-down, when tank exposes turret to open fire, but keeps hull hidden to minimise presented target, turrets are well armoured specifically to facilitate this.

Considering that your mech is already an impractically tall target (tank crews and helicopter pilots will love fighting such a large, cumbersome and poorly armoured targets), you really need ability to minimise exposure when needed, and omnidirectional sensor-suite head will serve that purpose.

And nothing prevents you from making head extensible on a pylon, and slapping smaller sensor suites on hands (radars may have minimum size to function limiting functionality of auxiliary sensors, I can't verify that right now), or other movable parts.

  • $\begingroup$ Considering Hull Down - with optics on a boom, like suggested in the other answer plus a shoulder mounted gun - and missiles or mortar the Mech should also be able expose only the necessary parts. Correct? $\endgroup$ – Karl Streiger Sep 20 '17 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @KarlStreiger If it can use weapons while prone, or you find obstacle large enough, sure. Or in case of mortar, don't expose at all, mortars (and howitzers) are plunging fire (also known as indirect fire) weapons and their entire point is to fire over obstacles, requiring only targeting data and nothing else. Targeting data can even come from another unit (tanks, helicopters, infantry, AWACS, drone, satellite). Missiles are all over the place: ATMs and SAMs require line of sight, but rocket artillery (indirect) is a thing, so it depends what kind of missiles you equip them with. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Sep 20 '17 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ @KarlStreiger However, keep in mind that mech shoulder mounted weapon will be much, much worse than whatever tanks of same tech level can carry. Recoil of present day 120mm guns is massive, and low profile and sturdy construction of entire tank serves to compensate for it, shoulder mounted cannon will put a LOT of strain on mechs spine-equivalent. If you have materials to allow mechs to carry 120mm guns on shoulders, you could probably mount something crazy like 200+mm on tanks instead. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Sep 20 '17 at 15:31

Advantages of placing the optics in a motion-controlled head:

  • You can look left or right (possibly even behind you) without having to turn the entire mecha in that direction or switch to a different camera view
  • You can look up and down easier - with a fixed chest camera you'd have to lean the mecha forward or back and risk toppling over
  • The camera is physically higher up than if it were in the chest, giving you a wider view of your surroundings
  • The head may be a more obvious target, but it's also a smaller target and can potentially be made more heavily-armoured than the rest of the mecha
  • Rule Of Cool, as you mentioned
  • If you're worried about maintenance, you can use a modular design where the head is easily swappable, so if it gets damaged or destroyed you can easily go back to base and bolt on a new one

Disadvantages of placing the optics in a motion-controlled-head:

  • The head is a very obvious target
  • The camera will be higher than the pilot's actual seating position, which may result in spacial disorientation, especially for newer pilots

If you're really worried about the vulnerability of a head-mounted camera system, you can always place a backup system in the chest, so that the mecha retains visual capabilities even if the head is taken out. But on balance, I'd say the benefits of a head-mounted system outweigh the drawbacks, particularly the ability to look around you with ease.


Rule of cool!

It is good that this existence of rule is out in the open as regards mechs, because that is the only reason for them. And so if there are mechs I propose the coolness be pursued unabashedly.

The coolest eyes are chameleon eyes. chameleon eyes https://i.pinimg.com/736x/d7/be/1c/d7be1c9715dd2ac5b14919ed48bf436b--chameleon-eyes-chameleon-color.jpg

They would be great for a mech. To my knowledge it has not been done. Turreted eyes each capable of independent movement and 180 degrees of vision. Binocular vision is possible over a range of degrees to front and rear; the head or entire thing would have to turn to provide binocular view to lateral fields.

When the going gets tough chameleons can retract their eye turrets to some degree and so would this mech - you don't want to get an eye shot off. In a mech the eye could invert. I can envision the anime where the mech takes a direct hit to the side of the head and then the eye turret emerges from the ragged hole.

Another borrowing from the animal world would be a nictitating membrane. Depictied is a frog nictitating membrane which I thought looked cooler than the typical semiopaque ones that birds have. nictitating membrane

Rather than pull this across for sleep the mech would pull it across to protect the eye in adverse conditions - battle, environmental hazards etc.


I think a dual approach could be appropriate, as you don't want one hit to blind the pilot.

First setup is an array of cameras like a fly eye, so the pilot can have a full view in all directions without having to turn around.
This could be housed all in one cluster in the "head" or could be positioned all over the body. Or both for more redundancy.

But having the ability to focus on a single area, especially zoomed in, would be an important feature that might not be doable with a camera array, so a set of cameras that follow the pilots main focus would be very useful as well.

This would have an effect to where the pilot would be able to see all around in an "out of the corner of my eye" way, but whatever they are focusing on would be very sharp.


Optics are BIG. Sure you can have an array of pinhole cameras all over the mech and use software to integrate the images into a 360 degree image for VR, but in reality military grade optics are large devices made to be rugged. They usually have to be externally cooled, especially if you want thermal imaging, and require big fat data cables and power lines, as well as heavy duty redundant movement systems.

It helps to have multiple lenses for different functions such as focusing at different distances so you don't have a slow "zoom" effect, paired cameras to give stereoscopic vision to the pilot, or seeing in different wavelengths or looking at different targets simultaneously. Plus you want laser targeting and rangefinding, as well as radar. So all of this stuff has to be placed somewhere together and is really bulky, so may as well make it a "head". Plus, if the pilot is seeing in VR, his perspective needs to be similar to his own, so offsetting the imaging he sees could disorient him, especially if the mech is humanoid enough that it uses arm mounted weapons and the like.

Head mounted optics can be secured behind shutters or even retracted into the torso for protection. Head mounted optics allow for the mech to low crawl and still see, plus it allows for utilizing the reverse slope of a hill or a trench just like a normal human. What would help is a boom mounted camera than can be extended to give some imaging around corners/over walls but this is a more simple system. A head mounted system can also be detached or lifted to allow for the actual head of the pilot to come up and see in case of electronics failure, simple motor pool navigation, or to talk to other soldiers around the mech, though obviously a simple hatch or periscope on top could accomplish the same thing.


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