Insights

Star Wars Technology Check: Science Fiction VS. Reality


Stefanie Meister
Published on December 22, 2017
By Stefanie Meister

Star Wars Technology Check

Fans couldn't wait for "The Last Jedi" to take them back to the Star Wars universe. In the second part of the third Star Wars Trilogy, the epic battle between the Light and the Dark side of the force continues. As is customary in the war between the Empire and the Resistance, semi-realistic technology is used this time as well.

Lightsabers or Death Stars will probably continue to be science fiction. However, there are some achievements from the distant galaxy that are already being applied today. From storm troops and hoverbikes to laser weapons, a lot is already possible. Here are a few examples:

1. Journey through the skies by jetpack

Science fiction: Who wouldn't want to fly to work with a backpack of rockets à la Jango Fett? This risky means of transportation became almost fatal due to malfunctions. However, as we’re unlikely to see a clone war anytime soon, the danger of laser weapons on your morning commute should be marginal.

Reality: In fact, companies have been experimenting with portable nozzle drives for years. Jetpack Aviation, for example, started its maiden flight with the Jetpack JB9 in New York in 2015, reaching a maximum altitude of about 3000 meters, according to the company. The rocket backpack has a maximum speed is over 100 km/h and allows up to 10 minutes of flight time. The jetpack is also used in space. From the space shuttle, it enables astronauts to move more independently. It is controlled and driven there by high-pressured nitrogen gas, which escapes through nozzles.

 

2. Laser weapons for firing drones

Science fiction: From small X-wings and TIE hunters to AT-ATs and large super-star destroyers - anyone who wants to have the slightest chance in battle, for or against the empire, is equipped with laser guns. Appearance and shooting frequency vary enormously.

Reality: The US military already uses laser cannons today. Theoretically, attacks with laser weapons such as the Storm Troopers, could become reality in the foreseeable future. However, experts agree that these weapons will be used, not so much against people, but as defensive weapons to shoot down drones. For example, there has been a "Laser Weapon System" on the USS Ponce for about three years. With the help of a 30-kilowatt laser beam, it can shoot at ships and drones.

 

3. Communication via 3D holograms

Science fiction: As with Princess Leia, who asks Obi-Wan Kenobi for help, holograms in the Star Wars saga are mostly used in communication. Data is recorded, stored and sent in advance. However, real-time transmission via the so-called “holonet” is also possible - according to the principle of live telephony, as in the conference room in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.

Reality: With the Fairy Lights project, Japanese researchers have succeeded in creating holograms with a special laser structure that even supports haptic interaction. However, the three-dimensional images are currently a maximum of one cubic centimetre in size. They are generated by pulses from a laser. It will probably take some time before holograms reach the mainstream, but the technology is already here.

 

4. Obsolete today: Medi-Droids

Science fiction: Medical technology is also featured in the "Star Wars" films. Han Solo is frozen in carbonite by Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker loses his hand and various kinds of Medi-Droids look after the inhabitants of the galaxy. They have a wide range of medical equipment at their disposal, but like doctors, there are also droid specialists. One example of a specialist is the cylindrical Medi-Droide FX-7, which provides all the important vital sign information on its screen.

Reality: Here, the reality is even ahead of science fiction. While the FX-7 Medi-Droide was designed for stationary use, sophisticated methods for mobile surveillance are already available today. For example, Dexcom has specialized in modern tools for diabetics: Your Dexcom G5 Mobile CGM system continuously measures glucose levels in tissue and displays them in real time on the receiver, smartphone or smartwatch. For this purpose, a sensor is inserted into the subcutaneous fatty tissue with a thin, movable platinum thread and fixed in place with a patch. There it measures the glucose concentration in the tissue fluid. A transmitter collects the data measured by the sensor and automatically sends it to the phone via Bluetooth.

 

5. Thought-controlled prosthesis technology

Science fiction: In "The Empire Strikes Back" Luke Skywalker fights with Darth Vader and loses his hand in a dramatic lightsaber duel. Fortunately for him, he quickly gets a mechanical, realistic-looking replacement.

Reality: The prosthesis technology is also becoming better and better in reality. Some of the artificial limbs are already produced using the 3D printing process and appear more and more realistic due to the wide variety of movement patterns. So-called myoelectric prostheses are already common today. It is controlled by the muscles of the residual limb remaining after amputation, which is embedded in silicone. Initial experiments were even carried out with the control of prostheses by thoughts. There are already prototypes - however, such complex prostheses will probably only be able to be mass-produced in the future.

 

6. Storm Trooper Body Armour

Science fiction: For the new "Star Wars" films, the typical white plastoid armour of the storm troops got a chic make-over. The fashion-conscious imperial Storm Trooper wears it over a black, skintight overall. A white, armoured helmet, in several styles, completes the outfit.

 Reality: The logistics service provider Geodis has introduced the use of exoskeletons for employees in its warehouse in Venlo. The employees carry the exoskeletons – a support structure carried on the body – in their lifting and carrying activities to relieve the lower back. The exoskeleton supports the back with a spring system that acts as a kind of counterweight. If the employee leans forward, a spring builds up a counterweight so that the load is reduced by 40 percent.

The British Ministry of Defense also presented its "Future Soldier Vision". This would allow British soldiers to wear a uniform with sensors and gadgets, as early as 2025, instead of armor. The armour will also include data googles, a Smartwatch and an integrated power supply module, as well as an armoured exoskeleton for extra strength.

 

7. On the Hoverbike via Route 66

Science fiction: A long-cherished dream of many "Star Wars" fans, is a ride on a hoverbike like Luke Skywalker's X-34 land glider or Rey's motorcycle-like glider in "The Awakening of Power". The vehicles also play an important role in "The Return of the Jedi Knights", when Luke Skywalker and Leia capture one of the companions and pursue fleeting storm troops.

 Reality: A vehicle that comes very close to the hoverbikes is the Aerofex Aero-X. It is motorized by propellers and even accommodates two people. At about 70 kilometres per hour, it can glide over the ground at a height of about three metres.

The Hoversurf Company is also dedicated to the development of the hoverbike. The Russian startup has released a video this year, showing their flying motorcycle "S3" on a Moscow race track. According to the inventors, it can carry up to 120 kilograms and should be able to fly up to ten meters high, reaching a speed of up to 50 kilometeres per hour.

This blog post is from Stefanie Meister, LEWIS Germany, PR & Communications Frankfurt.


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