May 4, 2015

7 Star Wars Technologies That Exist Today

George Lucas came up with some pretty amazing tech for the Star Wars universe—from landspeeders, cybernetic hands, battle droids, and the ever-popular lightsabers. Now, today's innovators are quickly catching up to the technology from "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." Here's a look at some Star Wars gadgets that are already available, or will be soon.

Cybernetic Limbs

Both Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader sported cybernetic limbs, and now medical device developers are close to marketing astonishingly similar prosthetics. Dean Kamen's company, DEKA, even calls its cybernetic arm "Luke," after Luke Skywalker. The robotic arm is a DARPA funded project intended to restore functionality for individuals with upper extremity amputations. DEKA received FDA approval for the device last year. [caption id="attachment_16869" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Cybernetic hands LEFT: Luke's cybernetic hand (credit: Lucasfilm Ltd., LLC) RIGHT: The DEKA arm (credit: DEKA Research and Development Corporation)[/caption]

Battle Droids

Droids—artificially intelligent, autonomous robots—were everywhere in the Star Wars universe. Grimy, faulty droids worked the moisture farms of Tatooine, while battle droids fought on the front lines ... at least until the Stormtroopers came along. Today, companies like Boston Dynamics are creating tough, all-terrain droids designed to assist soldiers on the battlefield. How long before robots like the Atlas (below, right) are fighting alongside—or instead of—human soldiers? [caption id="attachment_16866" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Battle Droids LEFT: Battle droids in action (credit: Lucasfilm Ltd., LLC) RIGHT: The Atlas (credit: Boston Dynamics)[/caption]


Speaking of droids, one of the most interesting parts of the first teaser for the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the roly-poly droid, BB-8. When I first saw it, I thought it had to be CGI. But then it rolled onto the stage at the Star Wars Celebration convention in Anaheim this year, and I was blown away. BB-8 was real! Not only that, but a few days later, someone had already figured out how to build their own (albeit smaller) version of the droid, using a Sphero. By Christmas, BB-8 toys will be in stores—and likely the new "hot" gift this year. [caption id="attachment_16862" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Look, sir! Droids! BB-8 and R2-D2 at this year's Star Wars Celebration (credit:[/caption]


Holograms have been around in one form or another for a while now—from the greenish/yellowish holograms of the 80s to the sophisticated technology that brought Tupac to Coachella in 2012. True three-dimensional holograms like Leia's message in Star Wars, however, have proven difficult to create. However, a new technique devised by researchers at Australia's Swinburn University of Technology could help make 3D holographic displays a reality. The technique uses the incredibly versatile material graphene. [caption id="attachment_16864" align="aligncenter" width="700"]holograms LEFT: Princess Leia's message to Obi-Wan (credit: Lucasfilm Ltd., LLC) RIGHT: The Tupac hologram at Coachella (credit: Christopher Polk, Getty Images)[/caption]

Speeder Bikes

Return of the Jedi introduced the world to speeder bikes, and they looked like epic fun—albeit a little dangerous if you're flying through a heavily wooded area. Thanks to Aerofex, we all can soon enjoy the thrill of chasing down Rebel scum at high speeds. Yeah, the Aero-X looks like a giant flying Croc, but it will carry two people up to 12 feet off the ground with a top speed of 45 mph. That may not be as fast as a speeder bike, but I bet it feels pretty close. [caption id="attachment_16861" align="aligncenter" width="700"]speeder bikes LEFT: Imperial Speeder Bikes (credit: Lucasfilm Ltd., LLC) RIGHT: The Aero-X (credit: Aerofex)[/caption]

Laser Cannons

Laser cannons are what put the "wars" in Star Wars. From the Millenium Falcon's twin turrets to the planet-shattering Death Star, laser cannons abound in the galaxy far, far away. But they also can be found on warships here and now. The US Navy's Laser Weapons System (or LaWS) is considered a defensive weapon, but there's no doubt it can take down an enemy drone. [caption id="attachment_16859" align="aligncenter" width="700"]laser cannons LEFT: Heavy turbolaser cannons on the Death Star (credit: Lucasfilm Ltd., LLC) RIGHT: The LaWS aboard the USS Ponce (credit: Daniel M. Young, U.S. Navy photo)[/caption]


Okay, lightsabers aren't here yet, but the technology is getting closer. Scientists from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) managed to coax photons into binding together to form photonic molecules, a state of matter that behaves like a lightsaber blade. We're probably a long way from seeing lightsabers for real, but until then, there's the LaserSaber from Wicked Lasers. [caption id="attachment_16871" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Saber-600x450 The LaserSaber from Wicked Lasers (credit: Wicked Lasers)[/caption]