How Close Are We To Living In The Star Wars Universe?

Over the weekend, geeks everywhere celebrated May The Fourth: the world's pre-eminent celebration of all things Star Wars. After you've donned your favourite Jedi cloak, played with your replica lightsaber and rebuilt your favourite X-Wing Lego replica for a third time, come with us on a journey down the rabbit hole as we ask just how long it will take to live in the Star Wars universe.

Believe it or not, we're well on our way to creating many of the technologies we saw and fell in love with when we first watched Star Wars.

The most interesting innovations are being powered by the internet. The way we search for information and the way we're presented with knowledge has evolved rapidly over the last decade.

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Google is the search giant of choice for the world these days, and what was once a platform where people plugged in keywords and got a result is now a platform that feeds information to you

Google started as a basic search engine: put stuff in, get stuff back based on the keywords and commands. Now it's becoming an engine to feed you the information without you asking for it thanks to inventions like Knowledge Graph.

The machine isn't just going to spew information at you all-day, everyday: it's contextually-relevant.

When you wake up, you care about weather because of how you dress. Calendars plan your day and tells you traffic on the way to work and the specific route so you don't lose time. Meetings, packages being shipped are there too. Google works to remove friction from your day-to day-life and helps you get around.

All of this culminates in Google Now: Google's personal assistant that gives you the information you need, when you need it, without even asking. Google's goal is to have computers do the hard work of finding information for you, so all you need to do is read it.

How is that helpful for us living in a Star Wars universe, though? Because the information isn't for you, it's for the Droids.

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Jonathan Roberts is the Research Director of CSIRO Autonomous Systems Laboratory. What does that mean? He has 50 people design robots all day to do stuff.

He tells us that there are advances being made to droid-like technology everyday, adding that we're now starting to work alongside robots rather than just have them work in a vacuum environment. Rather than machines work to assemble or paint a car on a production line, for example, workers are now having robots act as personal assistants on production lines. They're going to get tools, holding stuff in place and generally helping out, he tells us.

So how far are we from having protocol droids dressed in gold suits of armour talking to us? Jonathon says a fair way yet.

"The Star Wars robots are very different to the ones we have now. They're incredibly capable and they can do just about anything. The robots we have today are made only for a specific task, there's not a general all-purpose robot like C-3PO.

"There is a desire to make more general robot rather than getting them to make one specific thing. That's just also a driver for a better business model for robots: nobody's going to buy one if they can't do more than one thing."

The biggest problem right now when designing Star Wars-style robots for the real world is autonomy: robots can't really think for themselves yet.

"We talk about three things when it comes to building a robot: you need sense, think and act sensors.

A robot has a sensor world, so it compares what's in the world and compares that to the task it has to do, and then it acts, so that means moving its legs or its wheels. We're quite well progressed in the acting part because we can execute code, but percieiving the environment — sensing — is very hard. It's not as mature as the acting part. the thinking part also isn't mature, that's what we need for an all-purpose robot," Jonathon tells us.

"A common misconception, however, is that you have to have the brain in the robot. You don't. You can outsource that to the internet to think for it. That gives us hope that we can make some more rapid progress and because of cloud computing — scaling up a brain," he adds.

That's where people like Google come in with the way they present information to systems. It's an internet of things.

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Robotics aside, the basic premise of Star Wars is that two factions, good and evil, fight it out for control of the galaxy. We're not having a world war, let alone an interstellar war just yet, but that won't stop researchers coming up with new ways to wreak havoc. Our weapons of war are getting smarter.

We have pain rays, rail guns and sound cannons, and while we might not have a sword made of light and energy that can cut people in half, we have laser cutting technology that we're putting to more practical use.

We're even inventing clever spacecraft like the SpaceX Dragon and the Virgin Galactic, and other craft that are capable of delivering payloads to our nearest space station.

Speaking of space stations, there's even a few competing projects to build humanity's first Death Star.

So while we may not be ready for interstellar war, sword-wielding future samurais and moon-sized space stations just yet, the technology from a galaxy far, far away is certainly coming.

Image: Lucasfilm


Comments

    I know it's the wrong day for it, but I think were are heading more towards Star Trek than Star Wars.

    3D Printing is the first step towards replicators.
    The commercialisation of space exploration could lead to the creation of an international governing body to regulate it, which could then lead to starfleet.

      3D Printing is the first step towards replicators.
      Or maybe even Stargate!

        sure, when we discover and mine naquadah and then process the naquadah into a form which could be used in a 3-D printer and THEN a stargate. Two at least actually.

      bloke I know got a 3-D printer. He now has battery covers for every remote control ever made, spare parts for toys he has never and will never own, and the edges of the lawn in his backyard make a lesbian hippys armpits look well manicured. Now anyone with a coupla grand and enough ambition and not quite enough ability can produce useless plastic crap that will end up in a landfill.

        actually first thing he made was a replica of his old fella for his wife.
        Groupies used to make replicas of celebrity cocks from wax molds. Fellatio was required to aquire and maintain an erection til the wax cooled and solidified. When informed of his current project's link to the past he said." Fuck me! A head job off some random so I can give me wife a pressie? I think the scanner might have given me ball cancer!"

          +1 don't see comments like this everyday on Gizmodo.

    c-3po isnt general purpose - he's a protocol droid made for translating and etiquette. this coming from a trekker!

    I don't want to live in the Star Wars universe. Ask yourself this question, besides Leia how many female characters can you name? According to George Lucas you're either born into royalty or you become a sex slave for jabba. no thanks!

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Design

    Technology is limitless, one day we will be more advanced than the sw system. The imagination is the most powerful piece of technology we poses and as long as we keep dreaming and imagining the future, the sooner it will become a reality.

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Design

    One of the biggest issues we've currently got with robots working with humans is ensuring that they don't inadvertently injure or kill the humans. Robots can weigh quite a lot, and can therefore have a lot of inertia which means that if they hit someone they will do a lot of damage. There is some research going on into creating robotic arms which use series elastic actuators instead of rigid actuators so that if they hit someone/something there is some give in the arm which significantly reduces the force transfer. Currently robotic arms for manufacturing tasks have to be enclosed in a cage with laser tripwires that shut the arm down if anyone gets close - this isn't exactly a feasible setup for robots in the home. As a result, robots that work in close proximity to humans generally move really really slowly.

    On a mobile robot you also have the issue of detecting a human and predicting their movement so that their trajectories do not intersect. Detecting a human requires cameras and expensive computation (which translates to more equipment, larger batteries and a heavier robot). And predicting the movement of a human is inherently difficult thanks to humans being human.

    And finally you have to consider how do you have the robot fail safely. For example, if the operating system of a humanoid robot crashed while it was mid-step, will it be able to recover safely, or will it fall over and possibly injure someone? I for one would not like 100kg of robot falling on me.

    Unfortunately, advanced robots like C-3PO are a long way off, but we're slowly making headway. Fingers crossed we will have Star Wars-esque robots in my lifetime!

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Screen

      All good points.
      I'd like to add however that accidents will still happen even with robots around.
      Let's take a robotic car.
      They will still crash just like a human driven car, but at least they won't speed or drink drive, or road rage or tailgate.
      There are inherent risk in everything. Robotics is no different. You will never be able to make something completely safe.
      Even industrial robots with 2 layers of redundant safety systems can still cause problems. More often than not, these problem are caused by human stupidity or mistakes, but it's still a risk.

      I think as technology improves to a point where we can have a C-3PO, the materials used, safety systems and fail safes will also improve.

      I want the #HTCOne for its: Design

    They will still crash just like a human driven car

    If they do that's a flaw in the system. As you point out, most problems are caused by human stupidity or mistakes. By removing the human from the system the robotic car should not crash "just like a human driven car". The only cause of a crash should be mechanical failure, and even then the car should be smart enough to pre-empt the failure and stop safely (there is research being performed into detecting and predicting mechanical failures). Although, if it has to drive in traffic with human driven cars, then there is definitely the possibility for collisions. I remember seeing a point cloud video from the Google car where another car started to pull across into it, the driver then saw the Google car, overcorrected and ended up spinning out - was quite a sight to see in laser points could data!

    I agree that it is the humans that cause the problems in robotic systems. In the area that I work in, robotic vehicle and human driven vehicles are segregated so that there is no interaction between them to remove this risk. It is going to take a while before I am comfortable being around large robots without worrying about being run over, inadvertently hit, etc.

    Edit: Should be in reply to @inquisitorsz

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Design

    Last edited 06/05/13 11:32 am

    I'm just worried that Disney will ruin the franchise I remember so fondly as a kid. Would of been more appealing to me back then for Disney to produce it for my 6 year old self as opposed to now for my adult self... :/

    I'm just worried that Disney will ruin the franchise I remember so fondly as a kid. Would of been more appealing to me back then for Disney to produce it for my 6 year old self as opposed to now for my adult self... :/

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Camera Quality

    The Star Wars universe is so a long, long time ago.

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Beats Audio

    but where are the lightsabers? for I yearn for a more elegant weapon from a more civilized age...

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Design

    When I get to have a real R2-D2 and a C-3PO as my personal robot assistants, then and then only I will say the we're living in a Star Wars like-universe.

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Beats Audio

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