How close is Star Wars tech to reality? Part 4

1977 was a memorable year. The first all-in-one home computer was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show, Apple Computers is founded, snow falls in Miami for the only time in recorded history, the space shuttle has its first test flight and Elvis Presley performs his final concert before dying later that year. All of that pales in comparison to what happened on May 25 when George Lucas took the world to a place a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away. The movie Star Wars changed the world. Since that day its fans have marveled at the technology used and have wondered, could it one day be a reality here? Yes, it can and we are getting closer to that day.

Check out the three previous installments as well: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Heads up Display

At the end of the first Star Wars movie Luke Skywalker helps to attack the Death Star. A vulnerability was discovered and if a proton torpedo could be sent down an exhaust port the station could be destroyed. Luke’s X-Wing used a targeting computer that created a heads-up display of sorts that would help him to get his torpedo on point but at the last moment he decided to use to use the Force and successfully gets his torpedo on point destroying the Death Star. There was of course no guarantee that the computer would work as Red Leader had managed to get his torpedoes away but was unable to get them into the exhaust port. While not proving to be useful for Luke, these heads-up displays (HUDs) are making their way into our everyday life. The technology was first used with the military in fighter jets even before Star Wars was released and was expanded onto commercial jets. Today it now can be found in cars like BMWs and GM is working on a full-windshield sized one.

Energy Weapons

In Star Wars bullets are a thing of the past. Directed energy weapons are used, sometimes on a planetary scale. From the Death Star to Han Solo’s blaster to the aerial dogfights laser guns have been fantasized about for a long time, even before Star Wars. Laser energy weapons may soon be a part of the Armed Forces of the United States’ arsenal. Lockheed Martin is in development of a system for the military capable of shooting down missiles and even other planes with a 2021 delivery date. These lasers do not use as many toxic chemicals thereby making them less cumbersome and in fact they have already been tested on ground vehicles. A high-energy laser has also been developed by Raytheon and tested with an attack helicopter in 2017. Lockheed Martin has developed a system using lasers that can destroy drones and it is believed to be capable of destroying much more. We’re not quite ready to destroy Alderaan but who knows what we will be able to do in another thousand years.

The lightsaber

Speaking of weapons, no weapon of the Star Wars universe captivated imaginations as much as the lightsaber. The sleek and elegant weapons of the Jedi and the Sith were killing machines but yet practical in so many other situations like escaping from or breaking into a locked room. In 2013 Harvard and MIT scientists achieved a microscopic lightsaber, albeit for only a few nanoseconds, but they did manage to manipulate the photons to behave like one. It might be awhile for this one though so you might have to settle for a toy version for now. Many people believe that one day owning a true lightsaber is a physical impossibility so we will see.

Deflector Shields

With weaponry comes defensive measures. In Star Wars shields or defensive screens were available for many ships, from small fighters like the X-Wing to huge massive vessels like Star Destroyers. An impenetrable defensive shield was even used to protect the second Death Star that was under construction around Endor in Return of the Jedi. Physics students at the University of Leicester in England believe that such screens are possible, we just need a powerful enough magnet like those used in the medical field to be able to block a laser. There is just one problem, return fire would be impossible and the power consumption would be too great for a small craft like an X-Wing fighter but hey, technology will improve. A shell of plasma would be held in place by creating a magnetic field which would act as a shield. In fact this already exists, it is essentially our atmosphere.

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