Let There Be Light(Sabers) - The Fiber-Optic Tech of Star Wars
The year was 1977. When the first Star Wars movie premiered in theatres it was a huge, instant success. The internet as we know it was still a long ways off and the best personal computer money could buy looked like this:
It’s no wonder that audiences fell so hard for the sleek, sexy world of Han Solo and Princess Leia. A universe full of cool gadgets, benevolent robots, super-fast spaceships, and Jedi masters locked in battle seems pretty rad, even by today’s standards.
While we may not have space travel or telekinesis figured out (yet), other aspects of Star Wars technology don’t seem as far-fetched as they used to. Holograms? Robot arms? Laser weapons? These aren’t just science fiction anymore! And thanks to advances in fiber-optic technology, you definitely don’t have to journey to a galaxy far, far away to encounter them.
When Leia dropped Ben Kenobi a line asking for help in the resistance, she did it in style. Her 3D holographic message was contained in the memory system of the R2-D2 droid. It was projected as a freestanding image that could be seen from any angle. In 1977, this type of hologram was pure fantasy. Today, we have the real thing ~ sort of.
Through a combination of mirrors, fiber-optic lasers, and countless other aspects of computer generation technology, concert-goers at last year’s Coachella festival were able to experience an augmented reality - they witnessed Tupac performing live about 15 years after he was murdered. While it wasn’t technically a freestanding hologram, other performers were able to walk around and interact with the 2D image on stage in a way that looked almost indistinguishable from the real deal. As far as holographic effects go, it doesn’t get much more theatrical than that.
It’s all fun and games until someone loses an arm (or a leg) to the business end of a lightsaber. Throughout the Star Wars series, over a dozen characters lost legs, hands, or arms thanks to these pesky laser weapons. More importantly, these limbs got replaced by pretty intense robotic appendages that functioned seamlessly - no recovery time or physical therapy required!
Back on earth, the development of fiber-optic prosthetic technology has meant we’re able to provide better solutions in this department as well - artificial limbs that have increased dexterity, heightened control, even sensory feedback. Fiber-optic technology has made it possible for prosthetic limbs to send light impulses to the brain, providing patients with a safer, more precise alternative to older models that relied on electrical signals. As fiber-optic technology continues to improve, so will countless applications that rely on these hair-strand connections for precision performance.
Who hasn’t tried to construct a homemade lightsaber? Taping cardboard paper towel rolls together was popular back in the day, but light-based weapon technology has advanced a lot since then. In fact, the world’s first active laser weapons system was deployed this year aboard the USS Ponce. (Picture an enormous lightsaber mounted on the hull of a Navy transport ship.)
Laser weapons like this are primarily intended for short-range defense scenarios, such as drone destruction, and aren’t quite ready for the rip-roaring action of an intergalactic battle. If you’re expecting the telltale pew-pew-pew from the movies, or the red beams of light that signify a blast from an X-Wing Starfighter, you’ll probably be a little disappointed. The Navy’s laser weapon technology functions by emitting a narrow beam of hyper-focused light that is completely invisible and silent. But it still gets the job done.
Nothing is faster than light, which is why fiber-optic internet is so darn fast! Yes, we’ve been able to harness this optical technology to send data from one place to another; but we’re still a long way away from being able to manipulate time and space at the speed of light like Han Solo does to physically transport people across the galaxy. This would require a ton of technology that doesn’t exist yet, not to mention a guarantee that there’s something out there worth making the trip - habitable planets, friendly alien races, a market for business internet service providers with low barrier to entry, etc. Until then, we’re satisfied to stick it out on good old planet Earth.
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