What Would It Cost To Build a Real-Life Terminator?

Eammon
Movies Sci-Fi
Movies Sci-Fi

With Skynet hurling yet another Terminator back in time to hunt down the latest threat to its existence in Terminator: Dark Fate, and with artificial intelligence bringing the concept of sentient machines ever closer, it’s time to ask… could a Terminator be built in real-life? The answer is yes. And with a little assistance from a cyborg expert, we’ve looked into what it would take. And what it would cost. The apocalypse could be closer than you think…

T-800 BODY

As cool as the liquid metal T-1000, the T-X and Dark Fate‘s new Rev-9 models are, we’re going to look at recreating the classic Infiltrator model everyone knows and loves — Arnie’s iconic T-800. Starting with the chassis, or endoskeleton, which makes up the largest and arguably most important part of the intimidating hunter-killer, otherwise known as the Terminator.

In 1984’s The Terminator, Kyle Reese says Skynet’s robotic killers are made of a “hyperalloy. But given that we never find out precisely what this substance is composed of, it makes sense to look elsewhere for specifics. In the TV spin-off series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a young John Connor, fresh from the close of Judgment Day, tells Summer Glau’s Cameron Phillips that she’s made from Coltan – which is why she’s so heat resistant.

It’s possible that because Cameron Phillips is a T-900, Skynet used a different metal to build her, but for the sake of this article we’ll use Coltan as our base. And, well, they’re all Terminators, right? We can take a little licence with our own model.

In 2018, a kilogram of Coltan cost around $100, but prices have been known to soar up to $600 per kilo in times of high demand. Be prepared following publication of this article, then, for the price to shoot up. With the original T-800 weighing around 227 kilos, we’re going to need $22,700 worth (at 2018 prices) of Coltan to forge the machine’s combat chassis.

Terminator 6 dark fate explore unit
Turning ourselves into an 'enhanced human' (aka cyborg) like MacKenzie Davis's Grace (centre) comes with its own challenges -- but could be cheaper than building a Terminator from scratch..

Of course, if we were creating Mackenzie Davis’s cyborg rather than a Terminator, we’d need to use a completely different metal. So if you start getting ideas about turning yourself, or somebody else, into her character, Grace, bear this in mind. As Captain Cyborg himself, Kevin Warwick, told us, there are some materials the body would simply “eat”, or try to push out of its system, which would probably rule out Coltan.

“The main issue is selecting materials that the body will not reject,” says the professor, who is known for his work in robotics, artificial intelligence and the creation of cyborgs. “The body is very happy with platinum, iridium and gold, for example. Silicon is also okay, although when it’s very small (e.g. nano-scale) then the body tends to eat it. That is, the silicon dissolves over time.”

Warwick also recommends implanting into the brain if you want to integrate man with machine seamlessly.

“The body puts up defensive mechanisms to encapsulate certain implants,” he explains. “But when the implant is in the brain or nervous system, the fibrous tissue created automatically actually helps things because it tries (I guess) to push the implant out of the body. The result is that it pushes it further into the brain or nervous system – the tissue helps to hold it firmly in place and acts as a sort of bubble wrap to mechanically protect things. The body’s natural response works (amazingly) in a positive way.”

Don’t say we don’t give you practical advice. But back to brain implants later.

MECHANICS + GEAR

One of the most memorable aspects of the original Terminator film was seeing the hunt for Sarah Connor through the eyes of the T-800 — literally. And while red-filtered vision might not be the most practical way for a militaristic robot to hunt down its target, infrared cameras could prove very effective.

Since our Terminator needs to be versatile to manage any type of situation, this thermal imaging camera costing £2,552.87 or $3305.46, would fit the bill. It can measure temperatures up to 650°C. For context, that’s around the lowest temperature of lava when it erupts from a volcano.

terminator-endoskeleton-1020-0-1024x683
Those eyes are thermal imaging cameras.

Not sure how useful that would actually be when the target is human, but, hey, if we’re talking an assassin android that could be deployed in war zones, anything’s possible in terms of scenarios our Terminator could find itself in. We will, of course, need two of those cameras for the Terminator’s peepers. That’s (a clunky-looking) $6,610.92. 

Sensors are a key tool for the T-800, helping it track down its targets before terminating them. But did you know that we might soon be able to use sensors implanted in our brains to control robotic limbs, even at an incredible distance? Which makes a Terminator controlled remotely by a human a very real prospect. And that’s exactly what Kevin Warwick did with an implant in his own brain.

“I went to (Columbia University) New York and we plugged my nervous system into the internet,” says Professor Warwick. “I was connected to a robot hand in Reading, England. As well as moving my own hand my neural signals also moved the robot hand. As the hand gripped an object, sensors in the fingertips of the robot hand were used to feedback signals to my nervous system so I could ‘feel’ how much grip the hand was applying – the more pulses in my brain the stronger the grip. My brain was in New York and part of my body (my robot hand) was in England.”

However, our T-800 needs four axial motors to control its limbs and be able to run at bursts of 22 miles per hour. A set of four geared motors — designed to produce high torque at low horsepower — priced at £75.87 or $98.18 each come in at $392.72 in total.

During their missions, T-800s need to communicate with Skynet, relaying footage of what they’re seeing back to their artificially intelligent overlords. So a high-end satellite connection makes sense. This Iridium Satellite Data Terminal has unrivalled coverage and currently costs £3780.89 or $4893.98 – that’ll keep our T-800 connected to Skynet while it’s hunting us down. Great!

In the real world, of course, there is no Skynet and this article assumes we’ll be the ones in control of the Terminator unit. Which is where those brain implants mentioned earlier also come in handy. According to Kevin Warwick, we could soon be able to keep up, essentially assuming the role of Skynet, with a cybernetic edge of our own as his predictions about brain-to-brain communication continue to develop.

“We might need two implants per person, but direct brain-to-brain (thought) communication is potentially by far the biggest upgrade [for humans],” he says “[And as] cyborgs, [that would give us] an incredible edge. I am sure that [unenhanced] humans, communicating as they do with mechanical signals such as speech, would be regarded by cyborgs as very backward. It will be an upgrade that could be available for all. At present, we just need to press on with experimentation. But it’s scary, connecting brains together for the first time will be a Jekyll and Hyde moment.”

It would also allow for a powerful communication network between man and machine.

“I do think that innovation is this central human characteristic that is the cause of our progress and so many of the wonders of our world; and it’s the cause of our destruction. I think it’s why we will ruin the planet. So, innovation in this field, everything is done with the noblest intentions… But it can be used for good and for bad.

 

“The internet was intended to be this utopian place, but it is just a place with information and you can use information for good or bad. So I would love to stop innovating but I know that’s a regressive point of view. But it does seem like that’s the end of us.”  — Terminator: Dark Fate star MacKenzie Davis.

WEAPONS

Let’s talk about some even more destructive innovations… implements built to kill aka weapons. The T-800’s plasma rifle is going to be the most expensive hardware our Terminator will be carrying. Sure, Arnie’s Terminator couldn’t bring it with him when time-travelling back to 1984, but it’s a standard weapon for T-800s in their own time. And we’re slowly making it a reality.

Back in IRL 2014, the U.S. Navy unveiled their electromagnetic rail gun. It fires an electric pulse to a pair of conductive rails. This then creates a magnetic field, which vastly accelerates the ‘bullet’ being fired. DO NOT stand in front of that. It cost around $250 million to develop, and each ‘bullet’ costs $25,000. We’ll conservatively take just one. We’re nothing if not pennywise.

And then there’s the ‘standard’ Gatling gun that T-800s also wield. If their strength, speed and advanced weaponry isn’t enough, they also want to be capable of riddling humanity with a hail of quickfire bullets. Lovely. The M134 minigun has a scarily impressive fire-rate of 100 rounds per second, which is ideal for equipping our Terminator. One of those will set you back $250,000.

“Really, to what purpose do we build our machines so that we don’t have to stand up and turn off the lights? I know that robots have a place. The bomb robots, the AIs that can go in and protect us from certain dangers and terrorist threats. But do we need them to be lifelike and humanlike in order to relate to them? It just seems like it’s a bit of a vanity that they’re really only effective if they look like us and act like us. That’s just human arrogance. I mean why would we want an AI that thinks like us?

 

“Robots are only as good as the people that are using them, the purpose to which they are. Many things are built with the best intentions but we know that doesn’t always work out. Out of something that was meant to be good, disaster can fall. And I think we need to take fair warning.”  — Sarah Connor actor Linda Hamilton shares her thoughts on technological advancement.

POWER SOURCE + SKIN

But of course, we need a power source for all of this. T-800s come with an Iridium power cell that can last up to 120 years. NuScale’s miniature nuclear reactor is unhackable, and won’t melt-down – which would make it perfect for our Terminator (even if in reality, it isn’t the right size — but surely it wouldn’t take much to create one that is, right?).

In 2018, they estimated it would cost $3 billion to build a full nuclear plant out of 12 smaller miniature reactors. Since we only need one for our T-800 – that comes in at a paltry $250 million. Once you’ve constructed your machine, all you need to do is whack on a 20,000-square centimetre layer of bioengineered skin (more if we’re talking Arnie proportions) at a cost of around $51 per square centimetre, et voilà. A final outlay of  $1,020,000 and a finished murderous cybernetic organism.

In case you hadn’t guessed, our T-800 plans need some serious financial backing. Perhaps it might make better financial sense to go the Kevin Warwick route and turn ourselves into cyborgs instead, which sounds a bit more affordable.

An Enhanced Arnold Schwarzenegger

“The brain gate experiment with the implant in my nervous system cost about £0.5m over a four-year period – so not an enormous cost,” says Warwick. “And that was mostly paying the salary of the full-time researchers working on the project. Medical costs were minimal, really just amounting to paying for the operating theatre (2 hours neurosurgery for the implant). The surgeons and other medical staff involved joined in as part of the research.

“Hardware costs were quite low, involving some electronic circuit design, which had to be completely redone because medical textbooks were horribly wrong with nervous system details (in terms of electrical performance). Costs for the actual array implanted amounted to a few hundred dollars – this included purchasing unconnected arrays that the surgeons used to practice firing the implants into lumps of meat. Travelling to New York for the internet hook-up – self and one researcher flew economy and stayed in Days Inn…”

And to give yourself Arnie’s body?

Bodybuilding.com worked out that a high protein diet across a year costs $4,800. Throw in dietary supplements like whey protein, zinc and magnesium tablets, creatine and multivitamins, and you can add on around $1,020 per year. And then add an annual gym membership for roughly $500 and it all comes to $6320, or approximately £4885. That’s just the base cost without factoring in a personal trainer or paid fitness plans, etc. And indeed, as Arnold Schwarzenegger told us: “Why would I buy a Terminator when I am the Terminator?”

Final Calculations

Decided against going down the turning yourself into a cyborg route? Making your own Terminator comes at a price. We’ve crunched the numbers and settled on a final figure for what it would cost to build just one T-800. You’re looking at a whopping $501,329,597.62. Or five hundred and one million, three hundred and twenty-nine thousand, five hundred and ninety-seven dollars and 62 cents. This world domination business ain’t cheap.

Terminator: Dark Fate is in theaters now.

Eammon
Entertainment Journalist with a self-confessed love of comic books, Twin Peaks and Fallout: New Vegas. Maker of things.