GADGETS

8 Star Wars Technologies That Are Now Reality

In 1977, the idea of chopping down the bad guys with a beam of light, or playing a game with 3D aliens, or even sending a holographic e-mail to a mysterious recluse on Tatooine seemed like futuristic concepts. Yet, these concepts are now becoming a reality – real products that serve a useful purpose, research projects meant to show how the tech works, and games that fulfill the Star Wars dream. By John Brandon

Star Wars Opener

20th Century Fox / Lucasfilms

Interact with animated game characters

In the original Star Wars film -- famously set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away -- Chewbacca played C-3PO in a game of 3D chess. Sound like fun? Well we've got good news: it's actually fairly real. 

20th Century Fox / Lucasfilms

Interact with animated game characters

This fall, Sony released an "augmented reality game" for the PlayStation called EyePet that lets you interact with an animated character. The system first captures you and your friends with a video camera and shows this live feed on your HDTV. You can then call the animated characters over to you and play fetch with a ball.

Sony

Wield a lightsaber, kill the bad guys

Real physicists have been saying for years that the lightsaber in Star Wars is impossible to create. Light never stays frozen in space and tends to scatter. However, these physicists never imagined something like the Microsoft Kinect system. 

20th Century Fox / Lucasfilms

Wield a lightsaber, kill the bad guys

The new Kinect add-on for the Xbox 360 video game system lets you control games using just your arms and body. Next year, the system will work with a new version of a Star Wars game called Star Wars Kinect. In the game you'll be able to hold your arms in the same position as Luke Skywalker (or Darth Vader) -- and perform some of the same thrusts and jabs.

LucasArts

Bionic hand reads your impulses

At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke loses his hand in a duel with Darth Vader. Fortunately for him, medical bots could outfit the Jedi warrior with a bionic hand that seemed like a distant sci-fi dream. Turns out, it's not all that distant after all. 

20th Century Fox / Lucasfilms

Bionic hand reads your impulses

Touch Bionics has developed the i-LIMB Pulse bionic hand, which reads myoelectric signals (tiny electric pulses in your arm) and sends them to a mechanical hand. The latest version, released this summer, even works with your computer and Bluetooth wireless signals, so you can tweak the algorithms for sensitivity and control five fingers independently for grabbing objects.

Touch Bionics

Heads-up display shows your car speed

In the thrilling conclusion to the original Star Wars, Luke decided not to use the head-up display (HUD) in his X-Wing fighter -- the young Jedi just didn't need the help. Modern fighter jets routinely use heads-up displays, but you may be using one in the near future too.

20th Century Fox / Lucasfilms

Heads-up display shows your car speed

Already, companies like BMW and GM have shown how a head-up display would work in your car. The Corvette Z06, for example, shows your speed and RPMs. On a BMW 7-Series, you can see your speed and navigation -- readings that emanate off the nose of the car. GM is also working on a full HUD for your windshield that will show speed, navigation, and even the current MP3 playlist from your phone.

BMW

Trash compactor makes 10-foot logs

Han Solo, Luke, and Princess Leia were almost crushed in a massive trash compactor in the original Star Wars. Today, massive compactors like it already exist -- just check out the Marathon BlokPak 3000. 

20th Century Fox / Lucasfilms

Trash compactor makes 10-foot logs

The “portable” unit stands almost 8-feet tall; it’s over 100-inches long and 86-inches wide. The compactor has a ramming force of 235,000 pounds and produces 90 tons per hour of waste. The waste is compacted into a log that is about 8-10 feet long and can be ejected into a second trailer for disposal.

Marathon

iPhone app translates what you say

C-3PO’s main purpose in life was to serve as a translation bot. As we all know, he was fluent in over six million forms of communication. But your iPhone can do something very similar. 

20th Century Fox / Lucasfilms

iPhone app translates what you say

The Jibbigo is like your own personal C-3P0 for your iPhone. You can speak in one language, such as Japanese or Arabic, and the app speaks what you say in English (or vice versus). The app understands about 40,000 common words and shows the spoken text on screen.

Jibbigo

Send a holographic e-mail

In the original movie, Princess Leia sends a holographic e-mail to Obi Wan-Kenobi. (When LucasFilm made the movie in 1977, the idea of e-mail was just taking root.) Just recently, University of Arizona professor Nasser Peyghambarian created the first real holographic message. 

20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm

Send a holographic e-mail

His team first used 16 cameras to create the source material. Two lasers are used to transmit the message onto a piece of plastic to create what Peyghambarian calls an “interference fringe pattern” (one for dark tones and one for light) that appears to hover in space. “A reading light source is reflected off the image to display it,” he says.

UA

Use a 'navcomputer' in your car

Han Solo talks about a “navcomputer” in the original Star Wars movie, a system that guided the Millennium Falcon to the next star system. Interestingly, the first GPS satellite launch took place the year after the movie came out, in 1978. 

Tom Tom

Use a “navcomputer” in your car

Today, GPS navigation is used for airplanes and in many cars. In a nod to the movie, TomTom even created a version of its product that uses Star Wars voices. With some luxury cars, such as the Mercedes E-350, you can plan out your trip on a computer and send the route to the car over a 3G connection. And, Stanford University recently conducted an autonomous car test where a new form of GPS -- accurate to within a few inches -- helped guided a car on a highway. Could Tie Fighters be next?

20th Century Fox / Lucasfilms

8 Star Wars Technologies That Are Now Reality

In 1977, the idea of chopping down the bad guys with a beam of light, or playing a game with 3D aliens, or even sending a holographic e-mail to a mysterious recluse on Tatooine seemed like futuristic concepts. Yet, these concepts are now becoming a reality – real products that serve a useful purpose, research projects meant to show how the tech works, and games that fulfill the Star Wars dream. By John Brandon

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