Originally Published February 28,2007
While Jedi mind-tricks are beyond the possibilities of technology, the California Science Center’s “Stars Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination” exhibit proves evidence of technological fantasy into reality, opening new possibilities for today’s transportation, robotics and medical practices.
The traveling exhibition was developed by the Museum of Science in Boston in collaboration with Lucasfilm, Ltd., and features more than 10,000 square feet of interactive exhibits and multimedia presentations. The exhibit was designed from 2002 to 2005, costing more than $5 million to develop.
This is the first “Star Wars” exhibition to incorporate costumes and props from all six films with real-world technologies. It features more than 100 “Star Wars” artifacts actually used in producing the epic saga, such as Darth Vader’s costume and various spacecraft models, including the Millennium Falcon.
“Everyone is familiar with the “Star Wars” storyline, even if you’re not a fan of the saga,” one of the science center’s curators, Dr. Kenneth Phillips said. “You get a chance to see real cutting-edge technologies that are on the heels of ‘Star Wars,’ but not quite there.”
Although there are no light-sabers in the exhibit, various concepts from the Star Wars films can be applied to today’s technologies, Phillips said. For example, the speeder used by one of the films’ protagonists, Luke Skywalker, transports by hovering on the ground. “The hovercraft starts with a simple concept of magnetic fields repelling each other,” said Phillips. He said that there are magnetic pulses that accelerate a vehicle floating above a magnetic field. “Once you get more clever around it, you can shoot a vehicle down a race way,” Phillips said. This technology is applied today in some of the world’s most advanced train stations in places like Japan.
Space travel in the films may be light-years ahead of our technology, but Phillips said the concepts based on extrapolations are at reach. “It’s not a silly concept,” Phillips said. Even before Star Wars came out, people have always thought of the possibility of interstellar travel, he said. One of the concept spacecrafts displayed almost amounts to the same size of Texas. In an actual simulation of space travel, visitors ride in a replica cockpit of the Millennium Falcon.
“There’s nothing in here that violates the laws of physics, but there’s plenty in ‘Star Wars,'” Phillips said. “But that’s what makes ‘Star Wars’ so cool.”
Advanced prosthetics changed Darth Vader’s character in the film but medical concepts featured in the exhibit could also change the lives of those who rely on artificial treatments in the future. Visual simulators can be surgically implanted to those who are visually impaired.
“This will allow them to detect objects from left to right and detect images,” Phillips said. Cochlear implants, which can enhance a person’s hearing, can replace hearing aids in the future. “This differs from the traditional hearing aid,” Phillips said. Hearing aids simply amplify a sound, but the implants go directly to the auditory nerve that transduces sounds so the brain can easily respond, he said.
Phillips said a breakthrough concept in the exhibit could allow quadriplegics to control computers and robotic prosthetics just by thinking about it. No, not through the powers of the Force, but through a neuro-prosthetic system called Brain-Gate. “It’s a fantastic breakthrough,” Phillips said.
In 50 years, we could possibly have a sufficient technology that can accommodate the system, Phillips said
Robotics was also featured in the exhibit. Several demonstrations show the development process of robots, explaining how they adapt and interact with the environment.
“A ‘Star Wars’ robot is so advanced that it integrates everything we’ve worked on so far seamlessly,” Phillips said. Sci-fi films such as “Star Wars” inspire developers to discover interstellar wonders, Phillips said.
“A lot of technology you see in the exhibit were dreamed by people who saw the films,” he said. “Technology doesn’t develop and evolve by itself, someone has to do it.”