When the first Star Wars movie premiered in theaters on May 25, 1977, audiences weren’t ready for all the futuristic gadgets and gizmos they saw onscreen. Robots like R2-D2 and C-3PO were still largely confined to the realm of fiction, and the smartphones we hold so dearly today were but a distant dream.
Who could have foreseen that in just a few short decades, we’d be living in a world where technology straight out of George Lucas’ space saga is ubiquitous. We live and work alongside more robotic machines than ever before, are present in an era of rapidly improving artificial intelligence, and can choose to purchase a vast array of high-tech equipment that could have been plucked right out of the Star Wars universe. How have we taken technology cues from the infamous galaxy far far away? Here are just a few notable examples.
Artificial Intelligence at Home
There’s still a long way to go before our robots can match wits with the Star Wars droids, but today’s semiautonomous assistants can tackle more complex challenges than ever before. Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and now Facebook’s “M” are the tech world’s answer to R2-D2. C-3PO and little BB-8. These tools are still learning the subtle nuances of natural language, but Amazon’s Echo (“powered” by Alexa) aims to be the first in the coming wave of all-powerful voice-controlled home helpers.
Luke Skywalker’s cybernetic hand is undoubtedly the most well-known robotic limb in the world of Star Wars, and perhaps in all of cinematic history. When audiences first saw the shocking reveal, the thought that people would ever be capable of possessing such mechanical prostheses in real life was unimaginable. But today, for the thousands of upper-limb amputees in the United States, prosthetic technology is now capable of carrying out many of the complex and varied missions of a real human hand. Currently in development are prosthetics that will allow a person’s mind to control the actions of a robotic arm. Of course, it will take more time before medical professionals develop anything that will rival the synthskin seen in Star Wars, but the biomedical field has certainly come a long way.
Climate change, perhaps the most pressing issue of our time, can also look to Star Wars for innovative solutions. Modeling new strategies for storing and utilizing energy resources after the imaginative ideas seen in the realm of sci-fi could be the ticket to battling the effects of global warming. We’re not yet at the point of being able to run all aspects of our daily lives on energy cells and power packs a la Star Wars, but scientists and engineers are currently working to improve current battery technology at a rapid pace. This is crucial, as energy companies and large corporations seek to rely more upon renewable power sources – such as wind and solar – that are not available all the time. Elon Musk unveiled a an ambitious home battery product last year, and solid-state lithium batteries are on track to potentially double the energy density of lithium-ion batteries currently on the market.
The Aero-X is a hovercraft vehicle that will set you back at least $85,000 – but you’ll be the envy of every techie on the block if you can snag one upon their release in 2017. This hover car is sleek and just about as futuristic as it gets – not to mention very familiar to all Star Wars super fans. The design and features of the Aero-X are almost identical to Star Wars’ speeders, though it would be great if it were even one-tenth as fast.
Let’s take a trip back to 1977, when Princess Leia came before Luke Skywalker in a holographic form asking for help. Long before 2Pac’s digital image took the stage at Coachella, this scene was truly shocking. But what’s more incredible is similar technology is now in development and will soon be available to everyday consumers. It took a few decades to happen, but companies such as Bleen, Inc. and LEIA 3D – you don’t have to guess hard to figure out where that name came from – have brought 3D holograms to the market. Microsoft is betting on its new HoloLens product to bring holographic tech to the masses, so it may just be a short while before we’re all using them communicate with each other.
Star Wars didn’t just open up the imaginations of film audiences, it has created a legacy of technological innovation.