6 Star Wars Technologies That Actually Exist
New Scientist Live is returning for its second year on 28th September – 1st October, bringing with it all aspects of science to life through spectacular shows, thought-provoking talks and immersive displays. And one such exhibition at this year’s event has taken our interest called ‘Engineering Inspired by Star Wars’.
Inspired by the droids of Star Wars, the Royal Academy of Engineering exhibition will explore the latest advances in robotics, finding out how haptic technology gives us new ways to interact with computers and virtual worlds through our sense of touch. But this got us thinking – how realistic is the technology in Star Wars? And has it ever been adapted to modern technology?
The speeder bike scene in Return of the Jedi certainly gave us adolescent dreams that were probably never going to come to fruition. But a number of companies are trying to recreate the ‘speeder’ concept with working versions of hoverbikes. Californian-based Aerofex have been in the game for a few years now with their Aero-X concept. Described as ‘a hovercraft that rides like a motorcycle,’ it’s claimed that the Aero-X can fly at 45 mph up to 10 feet off the ground. But if it’s speed you’re after, Berkshire-based Malloy Aeronautics claim their Hoverbike can reach speeds of more than 170 mph at the same altitude as a helicopter. Unfortunately both Aerofex and Malloy Aeronautics concepts are just that, and still in the design phase.
A few main characters in the Star Wars films end up with bionic limbs, including Luke Skywalker, and it’s probably the technology to have advanced the most since the original films were released. Touch Bionics’ i-limb ultra, for example, is a bionic hand which reads the electric pulses in users’ arms and transforms the signals into finger movements, enabling the prosthesis to look and move like a natural hand. Utilising its pulsing and vari-grip features, the i-limb ultra allows the user to increase the strength of their grip around an object, which is very useful when a firmer grasp is required for things like tying shoelaces tightly and opening a tightly closed jar.
When you’re getting bombarded and need to send an urgent message across the galaxy, pieces of paper and ravens simply won’t do. In Star Wars, holograms were the means by which vital information was sent. While holograms aren’t as prevalent in modern society as we’d ultimately like, start-ups around the world are trying to crack the technology, with the Voxiebox by Voxon probably the best example we’ve come across. Their ‘swept surface volumetric display’ works by slicing 3D models into hundreds of horizontal cross sections, before a superfast projector beams them onto a flat screen that moves up and down at rapid rates. The human eye blends the projections to create a 3D image that can be seen from all angles – just like Leia’s message to Obi-Wan in ‘A New Hope’.
Heads Up Displays
In the Star Wars, X-wing fighters use their Heads Up Displays to lock and load of TIE fighters. But the technology isn’t nearly as futuristic as the films would suggest. HUDs are now common place in modern fighter jets, and many everyday cars are now using the technology for speed gages and even GPRS maps.
Laser cannons and guns may be the weapon of choice for many a player in the Star Wars saga – as well as various other sci-fi flicks for that matter – but as of yet they seem to have been overlooked on Earth’s battlefields. That is until now… the USS Ponce of the US Navy sits in the Persian Gulf and on board is the world’s first ever active laser weapon. It’s called the LaWS (an acronym for Laser Weapons System), and it’s the stuff of science fiction dreams. More precise than a bullet, the weapon can be used against a variety of targets, from aircrafts to small boats. It works by heating the surface of the target to a temperature of thousands of degrees, thus disabling it. All the $40 million system needs to operate is a supply of electricity and a crew of three.
Barring lightsabres, which are unfortunately just too damn cool to exist in real life, probably the most sought-after technology from Star Wars is robots. Having your very own R2-D2 or BB-8 (less so C-3P0…) by your side would be the stuff of dreams. But while many robotics scientists accept it’ll probably happen at some point in the hopefully not too distant future, droids with a high level of artificial intelligence are still figments of fiction. That said, there are some characteristics from the Star Wars droids which do now exist. C-3P0, for example, can speak and translate over six million forms of communication. Such software is available with the likes of Skype’s near real-time language translation service released early last year. Autonomous humanoid robots are not far off either with the likes of Honda’s ASIMO – the most advanced humanoid robot on the planet – being able to run, walk on uneven slopes and surfaces, turn smoothly, climb stairs, and reach for and grasp objects. ASIMO can also comprehend and respond to simple voice commands and has the ability to recognise the face of a select group of individuals.
So there we have it. Many of Star Wars’ futuristic technologies are either already here are well on their way. Just keep your fingers crossed for a lightsabre!
New Scientist Live runs for 4 days at ExCeL London from Thursday 28th September – Sunday 1st October. Head over to the New Scientist Live Website now where ticket prices range from £26 for a standard adult day ticket to £78 for a four-day pass, with concessions and group tickets available. Use the code ‘JOES10’ for 10% discount!
This post has been kindly sponsored by New Scientist Live.