Star Wars is one of the most iconic science fiction franchises in cinema, but despite its age reality is still racing to match its wacky dream of what is possible. Though it's a bit unreasonable to expect a Death Star in your life time, you may be surprised to learn that some of the tools depicted in the films are almost here.
Though the Star Wars universe is filled to the brim with fantastic weapons, the object of every nerd's desire is the lightsaber. Combining the classical touch of a sword with the burning death touch of a laser, lightsabers firmly join iconic images of sci-fi and fantasy into a single, highly implausible murder stick.
Special effects students and eventual burn ward patients have been making their own lightsabers for years, but it wasn't until 2010 that one became commercially available. Shanghai-based Wicked Lasers proudly promotes the Spyder III Pro Arctic Laser as “the most dangerous laser ever created.” That's apparently true; the company warns that the laser can cause instant and permanent blindness as well as burn things, flesh included. Several warnings remind you that there are literally no practical uses for your death laser and anyone seeking to shell out the three-hundred dollars for it must read a laser technical manual first.
While not a dead to rights lightsaber, the hilt is clearly modeled after one, at least according to George Lucas. Lucas and the tech community at large are concerned that Pro Arctic and its many laser brethren are weapons being treated like toys. Indeed, a cursory glance at YouTube reveals that folks are certainly having fun with the device, some while blatantly disregarding the safety warnings. But you can't close Pandora's box once it's open and you can't turn off the laser visible from eighty-five miles once you've flipped the switch.
The actual war part of Star Wars sees liberal use of laser cannons, be they on the sides of a massive vehicle or in the hands of a space cowboy. The advantage of lasers over real-world fire arms is obvious: no need for bullets and they're flashy as all hell.
Lasers have been a wet dream for governments the world over for a few decades now. Reagan proposed a series of lasers in orbit for defensive purposes (and actually called it Star Wars), though the dream has yet to be realized. On Earth, however, we're a lot closer to laser canons than ever before thanks to the US Navy, who developed the Laser Close-In Weapons System as a means of shooting down aircraft with science.
There's a few differences between the standard “pew pew pew” laser and the laser we actually have, the biggest of which is that it's entirely invisible until it strikes, which is both terrifying and disappointing at the same time. But in 2010 there were several successful test runs of the device off the coast of California on unmanned drones, so we're at least heading in the right direction. However, every Death Star needs its glaring oversight of a weakness, and it turns out our awesome laser is foiled by muggy weather. Moisture in the air can weaken the strength of the beam, rendering it useless.
As it stands the laser would operate strictly for defense. As an offensive weapon against ships it’s nearly useless; modern naval battles take place with huge distances between the two fleets. They could, however, shoot down incoming missiles. Somewhere, the ghost of Ronald Reagan just got a boner at the very thought of such a thing finally becoming a reality.
A long, long time ago, people didn't need wheels. They harnessed the awesome power of hovering. First appearing in Return of the Jedi, Imperial speeder bikes are fondly remembered for inexplicably being used in the most hazardous location possible, with the expected results.
Despite the apparent dangers in operating an airborne explosion, Australian engineer Chris Malloy has been busy at work constructing the world's first hover bike. Built in his down time, the current prototype is still in the ground testing phase and has only reached a whopping height of three feet while still tethered to the ground. However, Malloy's ambitions are far greater; his estimates claim that the bike can reach altitudes of ten-thousand feet and a top speed around one-hundred and seventy miles per hour. We're a lot closer to living the dream than OSHA would ever like us to be.
Malloy maintains a website for his creation where he updates both the cost and progress he's made as well as delving into the technical side of how it works. He also lists the practical uses for his hover bike, which admittedly aren't too exciting: search and rescue, patrolling and power-line inspection. It doesn't explicitly say you can't hunt down Rebel scum, so feel free to do that should it ever become commercially available.
The entire crux of the original Star Wars trilogy (otherwise known as “the only ones that count”) is Princess Leia's message to Obi-Wan Kenobi sent via recorded hologram. She could have just as easily slapped a Post-It note on R2-D2 and called it a day, but that's not nearly as dramatic or marketable.
Two-dimensional holographic technology has been available for a little while now, used for things as simple as stickers to more complex security features on ID cards. However, three-dimensional holograms have remained the holy grail of the entertainment industry. The technology is almost here thanks in part to researchers at the University of Arizona.
It's called telepresense, or taking a subject in one area and projecting it another. Professor Nasser Peyghambarian has been working diligently to update the technology. Previously it was impossible to make the projections in real-time and the image updated only every few minutes. Now, thanks to the good professor's research, the image updates every few seconds. Still not perfect, though much better than what we've had access to.
Once the dream is fully realized the applications are virtually endless, though it's currently being researched to host teleconferences. The end goal is full color, high-def human sized images. Even then it still wouldn't be quite what we saw in Star Wars since the images are burned onto a screen rather than being projected into thin air. But if the Internet has its way the first commercial application will be for pornography.