In order to avoid disappointment later on, let's just get this out of the way right off the bat: No, science has not yet created the lightsaber (goddammit). But, as we've mentioned before, scientists are doing their absolute nerdiest to make Star Wars a reality every single day, despite the fact that nothing in the film was created with realism in mind. A generation of scientists and engineers who grew up with the trilogy has already given us ...
The speeder bike scene in Return of the Jedi taught adolescent boys everywhere two things: First, all it takes to defeat the highly trained soldiers of an evil empire are some conveniently placed trees and a few hairy dwarfs. Second, it's not only the lingerie section of Mom's Sears catalog that can cause confusing feelings in your Underoos.
To this day, we still want to make sweet love to that scene.
Mark DeRoche, head of a company called Aerofex, was apparently a big fan of that scene as well. But unlike most of us who spent years of our childhoods pedaling our bikes between trees while making swooshy sounds with our mouths, DeRoche actually has the wherewithal to make it happen:
Via Larry Bartholomew/Aerofex
Free hairy dwarf included with every purchase!
Yep, that's not a Photoshop -- his company is in the process of perfecting a "low-altitude tandem duct aerial vehicle" that's sure to have every Star Wars nerd scrambling to auction off his NIB action figure collection for the cash to snag one. When you watch the Aerofex hover bike in action, it's easy to see why DeRoche says it's "probably a tribute to George Lucas' team":
So, are you ready for the bad news? It'll be a while before you can go down to a dealership and get one. At a current price tag between $50,000 and $100,000 and a target market of "agriculture, search and rescue, border control and transportation ... the Australian Outback, East Africa, a doctor going between villages," the odds of us everyday folk scoring one of these bad boys aren't looking real favorable.
Still, we're going to latch on to that faint glimmer of hope and hold it in a death grip -- because the potential payoff of simultaneously fulfilling our childhood Skywalker fantasies and our present-day "unobstructed commute" fantasies is just too good to let the dream die that easily. Now, if only science would come up with a laser cannon that we could duct tape on there to make it truly movie-authentic ...
Lasers have to be technology's biggest disappointment. For half a century, sci-fi taught us that in the future, guns would shoot glowing beams of energy that could blow the shit out of anything in our way. It's 2013: We thought we'd be living an entirely laser-based lifestyle by now, and instead they're just key-chain-size cat tormenters. How are we going to blow fighters out of the sky with that shit?
All we wanted was to die getting shot by something like this. Is that too much to ask?
That's right: The U.S. Navy has tested out a warship-mounted laser cannon (officially and uber creatively dubbed the Laser Weapon System, or LaWS) and successfully used it to destroy drones and smaller boats at a cost of a meager buck per shot (whereas firing off missiles costs hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop). The first of such laser weapons will be deployed on the USS Ponce in early 2014, after which they'll presumably start sticking them on, just, everything, because holy shit it's a laser cannon.
Sadly, there's no accompanying "pew-pew" sound effect, and unlike in the movies, the weapon doesn't fling out a visible laser-turd that a 10-year-old jump rope expert could effectively dodge (because in real life, light travels at the speed of light). But to give you a better idea of what's happening just before the drone bursts into flames, here's the scene depicted using the very latest in '90s PC gaming technology:
"Damn, I don't remember MS Flight Simulator being this hard."
In addition to the "zap you straight to Davy Jones' Locker" setting, the laser cannons will reportedly also feature a "dazzle" setting, which we assume still zaps you just as dead, but does so like C-3PO: fabulously.
In The Empire Strikes Back, said Empire sent a probe droid to Hoth to scour the icy planet in search of rebel scum. This drone was able to autonomously float along the planet's surface and scan for life, while simultaneously looking all creepy and insect-like.
Where's a giant rolled-up newspaper when you need one?
To develop our own real-world probe droid, we first need a drone capable of the type of hovering movement seen in the movie. The MLB Company took care of that part when they developed an unmanned aerial vehicle dubbed the V-Bat, a "long endurance VTOL design" capable of floating around with a 5-pound payload for 10 hours.
We would've gone with "The Great Winged Dongbot," but whatever.
That's pretty cool and all, but DARPA took one look at it and decided it wasn't quite cool enough (and for DARPA, the concepts of "cool" and "terrifying" are somewhat intermingled). They figured what the V-Bat really needed was the ability to act autonomously. Oh, and also a clawed arm. The primary function of this bastardized V-Bat is to hover its way into hard-to-reach places and deliver a "payload" -- what exactly that payload is isn't specified, but we're going to assume it's not throwing pies. As you can see in this video, it's already working pretty well:
Using its "vision cameras," the V-Bat is able to successfully judge the distance to its target, approach, clamp on its payload, and retreat -- all without any human direction. While they're using a stationary target in that demonstration (a ladder), you know it's only a matter of time before they train it to track down moving targets (read: humans) and latch on to them with its freaky robot claw. And since it's completely autonomous, it'll be able to do so without any operator input beyond a cry of "That guy! Sic him!"
"Who's a good boy? You're a good boy!"
It may not be the Force Choke you've always daydreamed of performing on freaking Dave from accounting, but hey, a Robot Choke is almost as good, right?