We know it all happened “long ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” but the technology in the Star Wars franchise sure gets people thinking about the future. Get ready for more of that, as a new chapter featuring a young Han Solo just hit theaters last week and fires up imaginations about what might be next.
For those who have yet to catch the latest movie, here’s a look at four examples of cool Star Wars tech that are at least edging their way into reality, and why interconnection will be needed to move some of these concepts into the real world.
Nothing says Star Wars like a lightsaber. In the four decades since Star Wars debuted, countless kids and, ummm …, adults have engaged in epic lightsaber battles. But actual lightsabers can probably never be real. But wait, you say, didn’t MIT and Harvard scientists discover a way to make “photonic matter” out of photons of light? And didn’t one of the scientists involved say it was fair to compare photon matter to what makes up lightsabers? Well, it’s true that the researchers shot photons of light through supercooled rubidium gas, causing the light to clump together to form molecules that could conceivably be joined together to shape, you know, a sword. But these weapons are a long, long way from reality.
Among the problems in creating a real lightsaber: The hot and dense plasma that theoretically could make up the core of lightsaber is too hot to be wielded in a hand-held metal handle. The weapon would also need a power source of such extreme intensity that it doesn’t exist. One physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Austin, Texas, put it this way: “Lightsabers are purely fictional and will never be developed.” Ouch.
We see speeders all over Star Wars, from a young Luke Skywalker’s travels on Tatooine in the (chronologically) first movie, to a clip in the trailer for the upcoming “Solo.” Speeders are airborne vehicles that travel close to land surfaces, and the vehicles envisioned in the movie are a lot closer to reality than a lot of Star Wars tech.
For instance, the Aero-X hover vehicle looks quite a bit like the speeder bikes in Star Wars, especially if you take a glamour shot of it in the desert. The Aero-X levitates on two rotors and is based on a design from the 1960s that was abandoned because of stability issues which Aero-X’s maker, Aerofex, says it has now fixed. Aerofex says the vehicle responds like a motorcycle, flies up to 10 feet off the ground at 45 mph, and can be used for everything from border patrol, to ranching, to search and rescue.
Star Wars is rich with droids, and they do just about everything, from translating “six million forms of communication” (C3PO) to acting as an on-the-fly spaceship mechanics (R2D2). Star Wars droids have far more functions and far superior artificial intelligence (AI) than today’s robots, but the gap is closing. Here are a few examples of what the robots of today can do.
- NASA’s Robotnaut 2 (known as R2) has a human form so it can match the dexterity of an astronaut. It’s being developed to complete “simple, repetitive or especially dangerous tasks on places such as the International Space Station,” according to NASA.
- Honda’s Asimo robot can kick a soccer ball, do household tasks and climb stairs. Among its functions: pushing carts, serving beverages and turning off lights or closing doors. Possible applications include assisting people confined to beds or wheelchairs.
- AI-powered agricultural robots are performing or being developed to perform a variety of farming tasks, including precision application of weed herbicides (See & Spray machines), picking strawberries (Harvest Croo Robotics) and surveying crops to improve yields (Agribotix).
Princess Leia’s plea, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” is perhaps the most famous of the frequent use of holograms in Star Wars. Holograms aren’t restricted to science fiction, though the free-standing 3D images in Star Wars and other movies aren’t exactly nonfiction yet, either.
Mixed reality goggles, like HoloLens from Microsoft, project 3D images into real-world environments, enabling people to manipulate images that appear before them, or overlaid on real objects. Of course, Obi-Wan didn’t need goggles.
Then, there are the holographic images of famous deceased musicians that have appeared on stage, including Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson. Last year, the late Ronnie James Dio’s hologram even went on tour. But these images aren’t really holograms, they’re created using a 19th century technique called Pepper’s ghost that projects an image onto the stage using onto an angled piece of glass.
The Holovect MKII can draw 3D images in air with light, but its creator notes that the images it displays aren’t created like a hologram, so we aren’t technically there yet. But we’re getting closer.
Imagination and interconnection
The imagination that drives SciFi movie franchises like Star Wars also inspires invention, and much of the fantasy tech that does make it into reality will require interconnection ꟷ the private data exchange between businesses.
For instance, the AI that powers increasingly human-like robots needs direct, secure, proximate interconnection between a range of users, cloud applications, machines and data sources to work as it should. If we’re talking big data, like the voluminous crop information collected by farming robots, interconnection between data stores and analytics services is needed process the data in real-time and mine quick insights. And the mixed reality and virtual reality technologies that can make holograms appear need interconnection because they rely on relatively sophisticated devices, excellent network connectivity and robust cloud infrastructures to meet user expectations.
A global interconnection platform that is capable of hosting a range of industry ecosystems is necessary to directly connect customers to their people, clouds, data and locations at the digital edge. Equinix has spent the last 20 years developing such as platform that spans across the world. This platform takes an interconnection-first IT strategy that shortens the distance between companies and whatever they need to connect to, and that’s essential to enable the fast, low-latency interconnection needed support new technologies and satisfy users in this digital age.
Star Wars fires the imagination, while interconnection drives innovation. That imagination/interconnection combination might not get us lightsabers, but it’s powerful, and it makes it seem like the tech that wows us in movies is not all that far, far away after all.
Women Love Tech would like to thank Jim Poole for this article.
Feature photo by NeONBRAND