Since the day the first Star Wars movie was released, fans have been donning bathrobes and making lightsaber noises with their mouths while swinging broom-handles around their kitchens. We all desperately want it to be real, and a large part of that desire comes from all the bitchin' technology -- the land-speeders, blaster rifles, lightsabers and force fields -- that we first saw in those movies. And it turns out, that science is no exception to fandom: They've been working 'round the clock to bring Star Wars tech to life, and they're actually succeeding ...
Everyone in the Star Wars universe communicated exclusively through the use of holograms, because apparently nobody ever needed to take a call on the toilet over in a galaxy far, far away. Now, 30 years later, we too have achieved that technology: In February of 2011, Manchester Airport launched two holograms to remind people about what is and is not permitted on a flight. Travelers were just plain not listening to the real attendants, observing the signs or reading the instructional pamphlets. So the higher-ups opted to shock passersby into attention by randomly deploying technology everybody thought was impossible, all just to ask them to throw away their nail clippers (even though you can buy them inside the goddamn gate). The holograms are actually recreations of two real-life airport employees, who also happen to work in the same area as the holograms. And that really drives home the fact that nobody truly thought this thing through:
Manchester Airport: Where "customer service" means "soulless robot ghost."
Speaking theoretically of course, what would your first instinct be upon encountering a hologram? You'd punch it in the face, right? Don't front -- you'd wave your arms right through its head while giggling like a child. We all would, and that's fine. But what about the next time you encounter that identical airline attendant? There you are, gesturing to your incredulous wife who just thinks you've been into the whiskey again when you tell her that holograms have been talking to you. So you take a riotous, carefree swing to prove to her it's not real, and BAM! You're in a black hood on the evening news with the words "Bare handed terror attack" flashing beneath you. Don't think you'll be fooled by a hologram? They're plenty convincing, by all reports: According to Julie Capper and John Walsh, the actual employees the holograms are based on, people frequently hand their passports to the holograms (who are even stationed at desks, to make them more natural) before realizing they've been duped. Now, consider that the success at Manchester Airport has been so great that other major airports in the U.K. have also begun using holograms of their employees, and it's no great leap to assume that drunken assaults are about to ... snicker ... take off in airports!
If that pissed you off, feel free to take a swing at the hologram.
Two droids were introduced back in 2009 which closely mimicked both the function and appearance of C3PO and R2D2, our favorite ambiguously gay duo (can you be gay without a gender? C3PO says, "Oh my, yes!"). First up, the 3PO clone, Wakamaru:
Wakamaru is a Japanese-built robot butler: It serves you food, makes calls for you and keeps note of your schedule with friendly reminders. With its built-in phone, Wakamaru can call emergency services if you are in danger or your doctor if you need medical attention. For patients in need of constant care, Wakamauru's eyes can be programmed to transmit everything it sees into an Internet live stream, so that medical staff or family members can keep an eye on you. And though it's not quite a translation bot, Wakumaru is good with languages, just like C3P0: It has the ability to understand commands in virtually any tongue, because it's been programmed with an international dictionary. Now, all we're waiting for is the dang Chinese to finish up work on that prissiness chip, and we're in business.
On to the only mime that anybody has ever loved, R2D2: Replicas of the plucky droid have been on the market for ages, but all they would do is beep, swivel or, at most, tell time. Not so with PaPeRo.
Developed as a "cute" media accessible robot, PaPeRo does the same kind of stuff as R2 -- which is to say: everything. PaPeRo (an acronym for partner-type personal robot) can access your email and read aloud any unread messages. It can also access social-networking sites and keep you abreast of any status updates. And if you're bored, you can ask PaPeRo to dance or play a game with you. PaPeRo also has two webcams in place of eyes so it can establish video chats with other people around the world, it has four microphones to detect and understand voice commands, and its chest is an ultrasound device for navigation (yes, it moves around and everything). Not convinced of its R2-ness? Well, just like R2D2, PaPeRo also understands human beings far beyond simple voice recognition. It's been programmed to detect stress levels in your voice and respond accordingly. If you yell at it, it can ignore you. If you're nice to it, maybe it'll do some work for you. Yes, we've finally done it: We've programmed a robot capable of insolence.
In Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke hops on to his landspeeder and zooms out to the dessert to chill with a possibly murderous hermit (not the brightest lightsaber in the rack, that guy). But at least he thinks to bring along his special augmented-reality binoculars -- ones that give him enhanced range and detailed feedback about whatever he's looking at. That's one of the more mundane inventions in Star Wars, but it's also one of the most useful in reality. For the past couple years, DARPA has been working on super binoculars that can do everything Luke's could, and more.
And, like Luke's binoculars, they'll mainly be used to locate sand people.
DARPA's proposed binoculars would have dramatically enhanced range, much like Luke's, and they would also relay coordinates and other tactical information back to the soldier using them (again like Luke's). However, DARPA's set, tentatively dubbed Luke's Binoculars (see? We told you they were doing it on purpose), are only the first step in the project: DARPA eventually wants to expand the technology and incorporate it into their bionic eye project, the Argus II. The final goal is to also embed EEG's or brain signal transmitters into the eye, which would be able to not only warn soldiers of potential enemy combatants in their area, but also clue them in to their intentions. And this isn't one of those DARPA projects that's two parts wishing to one part neato drawings; this is actually being constructed. According to their white papers, they plan to get Luke's Binoculars in use within the next three years.
Image via DARPA
We're not sure how they'll remove these once you leave the army
The fun doesn't end at Luke's Binoculars, either. DARPA is developing a whole line of products based on Star Wars, called Luke's Devices, which includes crazy, top-secret stuff like the mysterious Luke Arm, which we couldn't tell you about, or else we'd have to kill you ...