Listen to this story
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, technology peaked with faster-than-light-speed travel and lightsabers. With the advancements today, the people are ready to journey into a futuristic world of spaceships, humanoid robots, and laser weapons. Today, some of the make-believe technology seen in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” and its predecessors is a lot closer to reality than you might think.
Dr. Jonathan Roberts, a professor of robotics at Queensland University of Technology in Australia and a self-described “Star Wars” mega-fan said, “We’ve constructed our entire built environment for humans, so by definition a human-size robot that can do what a human can do can use all the things we’ve already made — like door handles or flights of stairs,”
Star Wars has been a technological inspiration for decades. Among the most iconic elements of this storied franchise are its droids, ranging from the adorable R2-D2 and BB-8, to the snarky and quick-witted K2SO from Rogue One, to the formidable and deadly battle droids that loom large in the prequel trilogy. In reality, humanoids made the headlines last year after Elon Musk revealed ‘Optimus’ and so did other market players. Furthermore, robots like Boston Dynamics’ Atlas show incredible athleticism, and the field of robotics, in general, is progressing in leaps and bounds.
Furthermore, tech companies are striving to create “speeders,” similar to those featured in the films, that can hover above ground and swiftly transport individuals to their desired destination.
One of the pioneers is a California-based startup company Aerofex, which developed the Aero-X vehicle. Described as “a hovercraft that rides like a motorcycle,” this vehicle can fly at impressive speeds of up to 45 mph (72 km/h) while hovering up to 10 feet (3 meters) off the ground. Meanwhile, U.K.-based Malloy Aeronautics’ Hoverbike is projected to reach speeds of over 170 mph (274 km/h) at the same altitude as a helicopter. But since the company showed off its product in 2014 there has been no update since then.
For eco-conscious consumers, Bay Zoltan Nonprofit Ltd., a Hungarian state-owned applied research institute, developed an electric battery-powered tricopter called the Flike, providing a greener alternative to traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.
Death Star and C3PO
The beloved characters of Star Wars are no strangers to losing limbs in battle, with key figures sporting bionic prosthetics as a result of their harrowing experiences. One such device, referred to as “the Luke arm,” allows amputees to control their prosthesis using their mind, thanks to electrodes that connect the device directly to the nervous system. This technology was developed by DEKA Research and Development Corporation and funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with the bionic arm taking its name from the iconic hero, Luke Skywalker.
(Greg Clark (right) and Jake George (left) with the LUKE arm.
Photo credit: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering.)
In 2012, the Obama administration turned down a public petition to build a Death Star battle station. It pointed out the numerous other ways the space industry is catching up to Star Wars. “We already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that’s helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations,” the White House responded.
Companies including SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation are also building rockets for NASA with the hope of one day supplying a manned expedition to Mars.
The famous C3PO is fluent in over 6 million forms of communication. That sounds a lot more impressive than the 1000-or-so languages that Google’s Universal Speech Model works with. The 1,000 Languages Initiative to build a machine learning model that would support the world’s thousand most-spoken languages (maybe even Klingon someday!) for better inclusivity globally was launched in 2022.
The futuristic tech in “Star Wars” may still be a part of science fiction. Nevertheless, the line between sci-fi and real-world is becoming increasingly blurred. While many of these advancements remain in the nascent stages, every journey must begin with a single step. As the wise Yoda once remarked, “do or do not. There is no try.”