When it comes to imagining futuristic civilizations and technologies, the ‘Star Wars’ franchise is second to none. Its rich and expansive universe envisions a galaxy where hyperspace travel, light sabers, and humanoid robots are as common as today’s automobiles.
While most of the weapons, space vehicles, and other astounding technologies we’ve seen in the beloved saga still firmly remain in the world of science fiction, some have inspired the development of similar innovations in real life.
Let’s take a closer look at the futuristic Star Wars technologies that are predicted to be ubiquitous features in future cars within the next decade or so.
The Iconic ‘Star Wars’ Holograms
It was a hologram message containing the pleas of a young Princess Leia that triggered the chain of events that would make it one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises in history. In the movies, holographic systems made it possible for characters separated by several parsecs to communicate, using a laser beam that creates 3D images out of particles and air. It was also used to project battle plans and maps—a function that we’ll hopefully see in the cars of the future.
It comes as no surprise that some of the more recent modern developments in automotive technology were inspired by the futuristic cars (and other forms of high-tech technology) that we’ve seen in movies.
Holograms are a great example of a technological innovation that was taken from the big screen and has found new applications in modern vehicles. Holographic systems in today’s cars come in the form of Heads-Up Displays. HUDs basically project navigation information and speed limits on a small portion of the windshield. This device reduces the need for the driver to look down at the instrument panel.
Automakers such as Mazda, Chevrolet, BMW, Ford, and Toyota have been manufacturing models with the HUD option since 2016.
The interior of the new Mazda 6 has been given a makeover. Much nicer, with a proper HUD displaying in the windscreen. pic.twitter.com/4pYYFbW4dL
— Phil Huff (@FrontSeatPhil) July 19, 2018
Interactive holographic infotainment systems are also on the horizon. BMW has been developing entertainment systems that combine holographic systems with existing gesture control technology. Efforts to apply smart glass technology on windshields are also underway at Porsche and Hyundai, with the latter hoping for a 2020 implementation.
Just imagine a racing game with engine metrics and gear information presented onscreen. The demo version of this transparent tech also shows its potential for highlighting available parking spaces and traffic signals on the windshield.
Droids and Robot-Driven Cars of the Future
Astromech droids like R2-D2 were used for the maintenance, repair, and operation of ‘Star Wars’ vehicles. These robots were also designed to fit in the droid socket of starfighters to co-pilot the ship and do on-the-spot repairs. In some instances, these droids could also fly the ship on their own, just as how Obi-Wan had R4 fly his ship in Revenge of the Sith.
As engineers try to perfect driverless technology, some scientists have proposed the use of robot drivers to ease the transition between human-operated to driverless vehicles. One example is the Intelligence Vehicle Operator or IVO—a robot driver built by the Laboratory for Autonomous Robotics at Ben-Gurion University in Israel.
Similar to R2-D2 and other ‘Star Wars’ robots, IVO can operate automobiles with ease. It uses struts to pump the vehicle pedals and a robotic arm with three digits to control the steering wheel. It uses a combination of cameras, sensors, and machine learning to avoid people and road obstructions. Scientists are looking forward to using these robots in work vehicles used in low-traffic areas at slow speeds. With this technology, vehicles such as street cleaners, snowplows, and mining vehicles could operate unmanned.
While carrying a conversation and exchanging jokes with the IVO is far from becoming reality, AI technology has become ubiquitous in modern vehicles. Approximately 77 million Americans use voice assistants in their cars at least once a month, and automakers have integrated Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and the Google Assistant into the entertainment systems of newer models. These digital assistants have made driving easier and with fewer distractions by leveraging data such as navigation routes, past user history, and GPS location.
Hoverbikes and Landspeeders
The hoverbike is one of the most popular sci-fi vehicles depicted in Hollywood movies. In the ‘Star Wars’ universe, these vehicles were classified as Repulsorlift Drivers that use fusion generators to create an anti-gravity field that allowed them to float. Thanks to this ‘Star Wars’ technology, landspeeders, snowspeeders, soil barges, and cloud cars are able to hover anywhere between a few centimeters off the ground to low orbit. Repulsorlift vehicles such as Luke’s X-34 landspeeder have a maximum speed of up to 600 mph.
The real life equivalent of the #StarWars speeder bike. #SteveEdge would love it the Aerofex Aero-X! Check out these other futuristic technologies that we could see very soon. #tech #new #futurehttps://t.co/Ys9UcszhwG pic.twitter.com/8vid4lcywO
— Steve Edge (@SteveEdgeDesign) November 15, 2017
In another instance of ‘Star Wars’ technology in real life, a company in California called Aerofex recently developed a hovercraft that takes inspiration from the landspeeder. Dubbed the Aero-X, this futuristic, ‘Star Wars’-inspired vehicle has a design that is similar to a motorcycle. It can run as fast as 45 mph and fly up to 10 feet off the ground, depending on the weight of its load. The existing Aero-X vehicles may only be used on private roads and plans for mass production are still unknown.
Across the pond, Malloy Aeronautics has been working on their own hovercraft—with both manned and unmanned versions. Their take on the popular sci-fi vehicle takes the form of a quadcopter powered by a turbofan; it can reach speeds of up to 170 mph and similar altitudes to that of a helicopter.
The U.S. Defense Department has even tapped the engineering firm to develop hoverbikes that can be used in military operations. They hope to use this technology to aid in the transportation of supplies, surveillance efforts, and logistics in operations based in areas with difficult terrain.
As most of civilian technology starts out as military tech—who knows—we might live long enough to see real-life versions of landspeeders hovering over American roads.