Real-life gadgets for real-life superheroes
By Ben Coxworth
November 8, 2010
Yes, there are real-life superheroes. And no, we’re not just referring to firefighters, paramedics, and other heroic people who we’re used to seeing coming to the rescue of others. We’re talking about costume-wearing, identity-concealing, cool-name-having people who fight crime, pollution, or other evils in their own communities, on their own time, and at their own risk. Many of them actually patrol the city streets, ready to intervene if they see trouble brewing – and being ready includes having the right tools. Given that none of these people have Bruce Wayne’s budget, however, their gadgets tend to be less like Batmobile clones, and more like... well, read on and see for yourself.
First of all, there are some household products that are popular in the RLSH (Real Life Superhero) community, including flashlights, first aid kits, mobile phones, cameras, and zip ties, to use as handcuffs. When it comes to preparing for physical confrontations, some not-so-household ready-made devices come into play, such as Kevlar vests, body armor, pepper spray, and telescoping batons. Moving up the ladder to the realm of “Is that even legal?”, a few RLSHs carry tasers, wrist rocket sling shots, and blast knuckles, which are shaped like brass knuckles and deliver an electric shock. Interestingly, we could only find one superhero who said they carry a firearm.
The Eye’s Custom Gear
Just as Spiderman is known for his web shooters and Wonder Woman for her golden lariat, so many RLSHs are known – at least within their community – for their custom-made gadgets. One in particular is The Eye, a kind of Dick Tracy-esque superhero who watches over the streets of Mountain View, California.
“Being a professional electronics tech from way back in my history, and being born and raised in Silicon Valley, I take great pleasure in the creation process, the sub-system testing, the final result, and a device's final effective usage in the field,” he told Gizmag. His mostly light-based doo-dads have a decidedly steampunk appeal, and include things such as...
- The Wrist Blaster: a wrist-mounted and -activated camera strobe, which temporarily blinds assailants when fired at night (a similar device, The Eyeluminator, incorporates a five-LED flashlight)
- Finger Devices: these include a finger-mounted butane torch, laser pointers, and the Dragon’s Eye Ring, which contains a high-intensity white LED
- Sonic Screamer Tube: this one uses the electronics from a personal body alarm, transferred into a sound-concentrating steel tube
- Laser Wand: a toy Harry Potter wand, retrofitted with a 95mW green laser module – useful for pointing things out to the police, or letting troublemakers know they’re being watched
- The Nightmare Cane: inspired by a cane used by TV vampire Barnabas Collins, it sports an LED light, rare earth neodymium magnets for picking up metallic objects, a retractable claw hand for grabbing other items, and a video camera mount for peeking over obstacles
Master Legend and the Master Blaster
Over in the Southeastern U.S., Master Legend patrols the streets of Orlando, Florida. One of his trademark gadgets is a handheld cannon known as the Master Blaster. “The Master Blaster will shoot so high in the sky you won't see it come down,” he told us. “It can also blow a hole through a door. I can put anything in it that fits.”
He also uses custom body armor plates made from steel plating, and a closed-ended steel cylinder that slips over his hand and forearm, which he calls the Iron Fist. According to Master Legend, the device is capable of hurting somebody, or smashing a door down – not that he necessarily wants to hurt anybody. “Scaring someone is better than beating them up” he said.
Artisteroi – Just tell him what you need
Unlike The Eye and Master Blaster, the gadgets that Artisteroi makes aren’t for his own use. He has a degree in mechanical engineering, develops engineering software for a living, and has become one of a select group of people whom other superheroes turn to when it comes to getting devices made.
He is currently chief engineer on the Iron Rad suit project, in which several RLSH “gadgeteers” are collaborating on developing a sort of real life Iron Man suit. Mega-Rad, one of their fellow superheroes, is funding the project. According to him, some of the key features of the suit will include ballistic protection, light weight, strength amplification, sensory enhancement and non-lethal weaponry.
“Iron Rad is a bid to function in reality as a full time superhero, actually rescuing people, disrupting violent crimes, and doing some form of outreach toward the next generation of people (who could become bad guys) to try and help motivate them to become constructive and awesome members of society instead” he told us.
Right now, the suit is still largely on the drawing board. “All the parts of the Iron Rad suit are essentially existing tech that we intend to repurpose and shoehorn together into one system,” Artisteroi said. “We are just finishing up the ideation phase and beginning design and prototyping.”
Some of Artisteroi’s recent projects have included a fog gun, and a fighting staff that folds down into a compact carrying case. He is currently working on the Mega Claw, a spring-loaded mechanical hand for use in Iron Rad, that will be controlled by Mega-Rad’s own hand via cables attached to a control glove.
Putting it all to use
It’s obviously a lot of fun acquiring and/or fabricating these gadgets, but... do they actually end up seeing any use?
According to The Eye, absolutely. “My cane, the Fedora Light, the Eyeluminator, and the Dragon's Eye Ring are common-wear items, that I wear/use some combination of on every night patrol,” he said. “The Laser Wand I once used to spook some public park vandals away, by scanning it near their location.”
“As for the more offensive but legal items that I often carry, that I did not create, such as stun guns and pepper spray and such, I certainly hope I never have to use them, but am glad they are there if needed... I am always more pleased when my photonic, self-created devices are able to diffuse a situation before it escalates.”
Geist, a RLSH based out of Rochester, Minnesota, told us “I use a cell phone, flashlight and a can of gray spray paint all the time. The spray paint is to paint a neutral color over gang graffiti, thus reclaiming the neighborhood for the people and not the gangs. It's supposed to be a lethal insult to the gang (meaning they have the ‘right’ to kill you for doing it.).”
“I've not used my offensive or defensive weaponry and prefer I never do. I've talked down a lot of tense situations using diplomacy and reason. I'd really prefer that everyone just goes home and sobers up, rather than anyone going to jail.”
Artisteroi believes that the consumer products such as flashlights and body armor find use quite often, but the more exotic stuff – not so much. “That is a good thing, really,” he added. “The real world is a lot more stable than the chaos of the comics. If we had to use these expensive tools all the time, being a superhero would cost a fortune.”
Special thanks to the administrators and forum members of Real Life Superheroes.org for their help with this article.