While the franchise's science and technologies are firmly based on fantasy, their enduring appeal has served as inspiration for many real-life scientists and engineers. Here are some of the most notable attempts to turn the science fiction of Star Wars into a science fact.
In a galaxy far, far away, filmmaker George Lucas created one of science fiction’s seminal works: the Star Wars film series. The ideas introduced by the films are still staples of the genre nearly 40 years later, and with new installments of the series set to hit theatres in the coming years, fans will be pleased to see lightsabers, hyperdrives, and speeders in abundance.
We’ve known for a long time that life imitates art, and art imitates life. However, science fiction complicates that famous formulation, forcing us to admit that life only imitates certain types of art when technological progress allows it. Human inventors appear to be taking cues from the Star Wars universe, building the sort of tools used by the Rebellion and the Empire in their never-ending game of intergalactic red rover. Let the cynics argue about why lightsabers would never work, but it’s still remarkable that we already have six futuristic technologies based on Star Wars films that shattered minds less than three decades ago. These are those six technologies.
Heads-Up Display (HUD)
A heads-up display (HUD) overlays a digital interface on top of whatever screen a person is using to view the actual world. They give you access to information without requiring you to open a new app, and they sometimes interact with what’s going on in front of you in a way that enhances your visual space. Remember when Luke was gearing up to blow up the Death Star and switched off his targeting computer? That could be considered a version of a HUD. HUDs are already being used in smart eyewear, smart automobiles, pilot displays in planes, and a variety of other devices.
If you think of robots as a version of droids, this isn’t even a stretch of the imagination. We’ve got droids that look like humans and they are as clumsy and lazy as us, too! Droids that trudge around like animals; droids that follow us around, etc. It’s only a matter of time before we have droids running around telling us how bad our ideas are.
We’ve all seen the scene near the end of The Empire Strikes Back: Luke’s hand, which had been severed during an earlier confrontation with Darth Vader, has been restored. But it’s not his arm; there’s a bunch of metal and wires strewn about it. It was a prosthetic limb. But, unlike traditional prosthetics, this one was nearly as good as the real thing. It could move fully functionally. It reacted to externally induced sensations. It was also encased in a skin-like exterior. It was nearly identical to the other arm.
“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” These words were immortalized by Princess Leia, but it wasn’t her saying those things directly, it was a hologram version of her.
Without a doubt, we have entered the era of holograms. We’ve already brought Tupac back to life and had him perform at Coachella via hologram, and it looked pretty impressive. This isn’t just a useful technology for entertainment. Holography is also having a significant impact on medical students’ ability to identify and interact with various parts of the body in order to diagnose and treat illnesses. In the future, your doctor may simply leave you alone while he or she summons a holographic version of you to examine and diagnose your condition.
A vehicle that can float in midair and travel long distances? Isn’t it impossible?
We’re not far away from seeing speeders become a reality. We already have magnetic trains that levitate. Many different companies are already working on Elon Musk’s proposed Hyperloop transportation system or Floating Ringway Transportation System. Among all, hovercraft technology is rapidly evolving.
Last but not least, tractor beams have become a reality. Last year, British researchers developed a device that can move small objects around by using high-amplitude sound waves to create an acoustically-driven hologram. It’s a miniature tractor beam, but it counts — and it demonstrates a possible method for scaling up a working tractor beam that can move large objects around with the flick of a switch.
Photo: Stefano Buttafoco/Shutterstock
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