News | May 4, 2018

5 real-life Star Wars technologies invented by Navy scientists

Created in defense laboratories, these real-life Star Wars technologies are also available to businesses for product development

Storm Troopers via Pixabay

To celebrate May the Fourth we’re helping Star Wars fans understand how close the scientists and engineers working inside defense laboratories have brought us to that starry future. To do that we’ve compiled this list of five real-life Star Wars technologies from our database.

BB-8 and R2-D2

BB-8 and R2-D2 (via Pixabay)

1. Rolling Robots

R2-D2, an astromech droid, saved the rebellion’s hopes of disabling the Death Star by escaping with its blueprints and eventually carrying them to Luke Skywalker. In “The Force Awakens” Star Wars fans met another astromech welding droid named BB-8, whose head sits atop a rolling ball.

Well, if droids could think, there’d be none of us here, would there?” —Obi-Wan Kenobi

But did you know that BB-8’s mobility is similar to an actual, real-life Navy invention called the High-velocity Spherical Microbot.

Inside, the microbot uses two servo motors that are oriented orthogonal to each other. They power rubberized traction balls that touch the interior surface of the housing causing the ball to roll.

The Navy inventors also included a mechanical plunger that strikes the inside of the housing, which lets the microbot hop over obstacles while carrying a variety of sensors. TechLink’s Joan Wu-Singel has the details for businesses interested in commercializing the Navy’s microbot.

Luke Skywalker's mechanical hand

Luke Skywalker’s hand as seen in the trailer for “The Last Jedi.” (via YouTube)

2. Advanced Prosthetic Ankle

During the iconic fight scene in “The Empire Strikes Back,” a desperate duel ends on a narrow gantry inside Cloud City’s reactor chamber, where Darth Vader cuts off Luke Skywalker’s right hand with his red lightsaber.

No. I am your father.” —Darth Vader

After escaping the sith lord’s call to join his father on the dark side, Skywalker receives a prosthetic hand. And in the trailer for “The Last Jedi,” we catch a glimpse of the mechanical replacement as he accepts a lightsaber from Rey.

Well, we’re making some pretty advanced prosthetics here on Earth. On Dec. 22, 2016, Carter Sigmon, Brian Zalewski, and Darwin Clark, of the Naval Medical Research Center, built an adjustable prosthetic ankle.

It allows a user to quickly and easily modify the pitch angle of the foot, which is key for using footwear of differing heel heights without diminishing stability or safety during swordplay and other Jedi activities.

This Star Wars technology is not only real life but is available for prosthetic manufacturers to license and commercialize. Contact TechLink’s Quinton King for more information.

Baze Malbus

Baze Malbus as seen at the Battle of Scarif in “Rogue One.” (via YouTube)

3. Man-portable Fiber Amplifier Lasers

Timothy Bradley and Eric Hillenbrand at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana, have patented a high power laser system.

And the patent drawings look eerily like Baze Malbus, the rebel fighter in “Rogue One” that helped bring down the shield gate at the Battle of Scarif only to die while charging the Imperial Shock Troopers who killed his best friend, Chirrut Îmwe.

I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.” –Chirrut Îmwe

In real life, the Navy’s researchers have the backpack laser being used to breach metal walls and doors. But Bradley has related inventions that turn this into a mobile laser cannon, capable of shooting down UAVs or disabling vehicles or enemy missiles. TechLink’s Sean Patten is familiar with Bradley’s patent portfolio and is seeking businesses who will develop it.

Storm troopers

via Nerdist

4. Advanced Body and Vehicle Armor

Part and parcel of the Imperial Army’s battlefield dominance is their use of armor, vehicle, and body. Darth Vader’s black helmet, the storm trooper’s 18-piece white body armor, and the towering four-legged AT-ATs (All Terrain Armored Transport) are unforgettable. And then there’s Boba Fett’s helmet and body armor, made of Duraplast, a superior metal synthesized from carbon.

That armor is too strong for blasters.” –Luke Skywalker

In real life, defense laboratories have also advanced vehicle and body armor, making it stronger and more flexible.

The opaque ballistic face shield developed by Navy researchers uses fiber optics to collect the real-time image of the scene and project it onto the inside of the face shield. The helmet is non-electric, made from silicon carbide and polyethylene and weighs just two pounds, which is a significant weight advantage over transparent face shields.

The passive fiber optic bundles face forward and capture the image and project it onto the inside of the ballistic face shield.

Other Navy researchers invented a lightweight and flexible body armor as an improved alternative to conventional plate armor, which is relatively large and bulky. The armor comes in two variants: a fabric for the torso that resembles dimpled foam rubber, and an insert of interlocking pieces that lock up into a solid piece upon impact. The protection in the new armor comes from the use of tiny interlocking hexagonal tiles made of boron carbide and silicon carbide.

The Navy also developed a method to fabricate nanocrystalline transparent magnesium aluminate that is 50 percent harder than the best materials used in military vehicle windows and optical sensors. This see-through armor has the highest reported hardness of any transparent ceramic and was achieved by enhanced high-pressure sintering using a reduced 28-nanometer grain size. Contact TechLink’s Austin Leach for more details on commercializing this amazing material.

5. Advanced Ship Navigation

It takes some imagination to understand how hyperdrive engines allow travel at light speed, but one thing we can safely assume is that with the interception point being somewhat unknown, efforts by Imperial Forces to block rebel starships in hyperspace requires very precise course plotting.

That, it turns out, is an issue similar to one faced by maritime navigators. To address the problem, the Naval Postgraduate School invented what we call the Oceanic Route Finder.

Asteroids do not concern me, Admiral! I want that ship, not excuses!” –Darth Vader

When the Navy hopes to meet another ship at sea, like a refueling ship or enemy star destroyer, thousands of shortest-route calculations must be done in a time frame insensible to a human, so speed in finding the shortest route is of the essence.

Thus, the developed program provides a method and system that quickly determines the shortest oceanic route between dynamic points X and Y, using an oceanic routing system in which a computer implements spherical mathematics to calculate the shortest route. If Y is not visible from X, the system uses an overlay of vertexes on the globe and navigates from vertex to vertex.

We hope you enjoy watching “The Last Jedi” even more now that you know it won’t be that long until we’re traveling to distant corners of the galaxy thanks to defense laboratories.

And though he won’t be in this latest film, we wanted to end with some Han Solo wisdom for ‘ol times sake.

via Newsweek

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” –Han Solo

Headshot Image of Quinton King, PhD, CLP

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