The Force is Strong With this Technology
Star Wars technology is the stuff of fantasy (lightsabers, anyone?). However, thanks to some recent technological breakthroughs and some really smart engineers, high-tech gadgetry on par with the sci-fi silver screen may be even closer than you think.
Read on for some of our favorite examples of real-life technology that could easily find its place in a galaxy far, far away...
In the 1980s, critics derisively called President Ronald Reagan’s proposed ballistic missile defense program “Star Wars.” Today, Lockheed Martin has made “Star Wars” reality, having successfully developed multiple, proven ballistic missile defense platforms, including the Aegis Combat System that, in 2008, was the first combat system to successfully shoot down an errant satellite from the surface of the earth.
When making the trench run to destroy the first Death Star, Luke Skywalker switches off his targeting computer—using the mystical Force to guide his torpedo into a small exhaust port on the Death Star. While we can’t provide the Force, the Aegis Combat System makes Luke’s targeting computer look ancient. Aegis can launch multiple missiles to seek out both aircraft and ballistic missile targets simultaneously, the only system on this planet capable of true Integrated Air and Missile Defense.
Today’s lasers are certainly turning sci-fi into reality, but don’t go all Death Star on us just yet. Laser weapon systems are designed for pinpoint accuracy (not a big boom). How does it work? Through a technique called spectral beam combining, several fiber laser modules are combined to form a powerful, high-quality beam. We can fine-tune an energy stream into a focused beam with the help of an optical system of mirrors, lenses and windows that concentrate it and adjust it for distortions in the atmosphere it will pass through on the way to the target. The laser is light (so it travels at lightspeed) and takes only milliseconds to seconds to work its way through a target by applying heat and causing various failures, such as melting.
AIRCRAFT LASER TURRET
A laser weapon system only can engage targets in front of an aircraft travelling close to the speed of sound. That is, unless atmospheric turbulence can be counteracted. A prototype laser turret has done exactly that, paving the way for laser weapon systems on tactical aircraft. The Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control turret is the first turret to demonstrate a 360-degree field of regard for laser weapon systems on an aircraft flying near the speed of sound. Left unchecked, turbulence would scatter the light particles in the laser beam, much like fog diffuses a flashlight beam.
Protocol droids, probes, astromechs: the Star Wars universe is replete with robots. Who wouldn’t want a robot that can hack computer systems and also serve drinks at your sailing barge soirée? Well good news, our Earthly robots are up for the challenge. While robots aren’t quite ready to be your best buddy, engineers and scientists are working on robots that interact with humans in a natural way.
C-3PO can understand R2-D2’s bleeps and squeals through tone and body language. C-3PO was a protocol droid, designed to help people understand each other by translating not only languages but also customs and habits across cultural barriers. In much the same way, Lockheed Martin is working on software that will help robots and digital assistants relate to their human companions and teammates with as much ease and facility as if they were native speakers of Bocce or Huttese.
In addition, we are working on ways to increase the ability of robots to interact with the world we as humans take for granted. Like people, droids in the movies use doors, tools and vehicles. While not quite up to C-3PO’s speed and agility, Lockheed Martin’s work on the DARPA Robotics Challenge is helping robots today develop skills that will allow them to operate alongside humans tomorrow.
INTEGRATED PLANT MANAGEMENT STATION
You really can command a ship from a captain’s chair. That is, if your ship is a Littoral Combat Ship, designed and built to patrol the coastlines here on Earth. The LCS is designed to be operated by fewer than 50 crew members, meaning the Captain must have control at his or her fingertips. While Han Solo and Chewbacca have to run all around the Millennium Falcon, from the bridge of the LCS—enabled by automation and networked systems—the crew can manage and operate the propulsion, electric plant, auxiliaries and engineering casualty/damage control systems without taking a step. And with the flick of a switch, the Captain can visually inspect just about every part of the ship, including unmanned spaces. Built-in redundancies allow the crew to operate all of these systems from a few strategic points throughout the ship.
CLOAKING FOR OUR GALAXY
Han Solo’s flying led Imperial forces to believe he had a cloaking device to render the Millennium Falcon invisible to their sensors. The Falcon was hiding in plain sight, and Lockheed Martin engineers are working on a way to improve on Han’s trick. By distorting the direction of visible and near-infrared light or electromagnetic waves around an object, it would appear that the object did not exist. Materials can be engineered to redirect or absorb waves and hide objects from detection, just as mirrors or lenses can be used to hide an object from visible light. Plus, stealthy fighters like the F-35 have an ability to track targets without emitting radar themselves.