As long as we have had a spark of creativity in our minds there have always been inventors pushing the limits of it. These are the ones who push forward into new domains and bring forth oddities both fascinating and bizarre. Some of these truly stand out, and there is perhaps no other inventor in recent memory who has come up with stuff as whacky or downright bizarre as that of Canadian inventor and conservationist Troy Hurtubise. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1963, his life work reads like a list of mad scientist gadgetry, and it all began with one harrowing day while hiking. In 1984, Hurtubise was hiking in central British Columbia when he was attacked by a grizzly bear, an encounter be barely escaped, and which left him rattled but also with a fascination with bears. Indeed, he became absolutely obsessed with the animals, and also with the idea of creating an armored suit that would protect from an attack by a full grown grizzly. And here we begin the tale of a self taught inventor who crafted some of the weirdest inventions and suits of armor like something out of a comic book.
To this end, Hurtubise began work on what called the “Ursus Suit,” which was a bulky metal suit with internal shock resistant padding that took years to perfect and over a hundred thousand dollars out of his own pocket. Looking like a cross between Robocop and Iron Man, the suit went through several iterations as it was tested, and what better way to test it than to use himself as the test subject? Hurtubise would suit up and pay bikers to pummel him with baseball bats, two-by-fours, even an axe, he would throw himself from a 150-foot high escarpment, have himself shot with a 12-gauge shotgun, and even take a 350-pound log swung from a rope to the chest. He was stabbed with knives, hacked at with axes, shot with bow and arrows, all in the name of science, surviving it all without a scratch ensconced within his suit. It seemed to work fine, and was also equipped with a camera and an arm-mounted can of bear repellent.
He finally began testing it with real bears, starting with black bears, but they mostly ran from him in terror. He then managed to test it with a grizzly after a few failed tries in which the bears wouldn’t go near him, but was forced to upgrade his armor when he realized that it was able to pry the helmet off, a design quirk that nearly cost him his life. These tests led to further models, culminating in the Ursus Mark VII suit, which was able to successfully protect against a full attack by a 1200-pound (545 kg) male Kodiak bear. He has said of his latest suit:
This suit, unlike any ever built, has not only an exoskeleton, it has an endoskeleton, too. No outside force is touching my body. That's why you can park a truck on it — nothing's going to happen to me. Mike Tyson's punching power is 540 pounds per square inch. Bang! I'll take 15 times Tyson's punching power in the Mark VII. Total top of the line. I gotta go to NASA for the materials. The only way you're going to kill the Mark VII is a rogue elephant with fangs.
Only a rogue elephant with fangs, he certainly had a way with words, and this showmanship only drummed up more publicity. All of this made Hurtubise a bit of a celebrity, and people were fascinated with his Tony Stark-like ingenuity and armored suit creation. He appeared on TV programs such as Ripley’s Believe it or not, a documentary called Project Grizzly, which chronicles the suit’s evolution and shows many of his harrowing tests on himself of the suit’s capabilities, and others, as well as countless radio interviews. The Ursus Suit also won Hurtubise the Ig Nobel Prize for Safety Engineering in 1998, not bad for a former scrap metal salesman and self-taught inventor with virtually no prior technological or engineering experience. It wasn’t the end of his inventing spree, either. In fact, it was just the beginning, and while scrambling for more funding and working on the suit’s mobility issues, he came up with a natural progression for his design.
In 2007, Hurtubise came up with what he called the “Trojan Ballistics Suit of Armor,” designed not for resisting bear attacks, but rather for soldiers in combat. The suit was a full ballistic exoskeleton body suit of armor that he claimed would be able to withstand shots fired from even high powered weapons. He produced a proof of concept video in which the chest plate of the armor is shown withstanding shots from 9mm and .357 handgun rounds, a 12-gauge shotgun, and even an elephant gun without a scratch. The suit also a has solar-powered air system, compartments for weapons and supplies, and a fan system to cool the wearer, but he was never able to secure funding for its mass production, and was forced to auction off the prototype to keep himself afloat.
In the meantime, Hurtubise worked on other inventions, some of which were no less strange than his armored suits. There was a flame-proof paste called Firepaste, which was subjected to a high-heat blowtorch as a demonstration. For the demo, Hurtubise put a mask of the material on his own face and aimed a blowtorch directly at it. After being blasted with the blowtorch, he suffered no burns, the integrity of the material was not compromised, and a thermometer showed no appreciable temperature change. Another invention was another paste which could resist small arms fire and explosives, and there was also a device called the “Angel Light,” which was designed to be able to see through objects and the human body. Hurtubise would claim to have tested the Angel light on his own hand, and he could see his own blood vessels and muscle tissue as if the skin had been pulled back. However, the device had some drawbacks in that it caused numbness and dizziness, and had the side effect of disrupting nearby electrical equipment and killing goldfish, so it was abandoned. He also created a ray that he claimed would grow hair if aimed at the scalp, as well as another ray which supposedly can make seeds grow even in limited light and water.
Despite all of these inventions and videos of his exploits constant viral hits on YouTube, Hurtubise was never able to really get enough funding for any of his creations to really take off. Tragically, in June of 2018, Troy Hurtubise was killed in a highway collision at the age of 54, thought to have been due to him swerving in front of an oncoming fuel tanker truck for reasons unknown. If he had been wearing his armor that day, he very well possibly would have survived, but he was not, and so came to an end the life of this colorful character. It may be perhaps to the detriment of mankind that he never did teach the secrets or share the designs or formulas for many of his inventions, taking them to the grave with him. Troy Hurtubise truly made a name for himself among some of the most offbeat inventors of all time, following his passions and bringing forth some truly bizarre stuff. It is a shame he was never able to capitalize or commercialize any of it, and also because much of his work died with him, but he is a fascinating look into what one can do when they are driven, determined, and maybe a little crazy. That is a compliment, Hurtubise, rest in peace.