6 'Star Wars' Technologies That May Not Be So Far, Far Away

From landspeeders to lightsabers

Landspeeders

Landspeeders, fictional and real

Lucasfilm/Aerofex

The trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens may be just 88 seconds long, but it still manages to pack a punch. (Some of us have even spent way too long dissecting the entire thing.) Personally, among my favorite parts of Star Wars—and there are many—is the amazing technology that populates this "ancient" galaxy. But it turns out some of it isn't quite as far off as you might think.

Roll-y droid

The spherical soccer-ball-looking droid from the trailer has already become an Internet favorite, but you don't have to venture to Tatooine to find something similar. The $100 Sphero is a robot ball that you can control from your smartphone or tablet. It can navigate obstacle courses and change colors, and it's even programmable. And while it might not be able help you with your next jump to hyperspace, it's not likely to cause quite as much trouble as your average R2 unit.

Landspeeder

Ever since the original Star Wars movies debuted, the hot-rodding enthusiasts among us have salivated over the prospects of zipping over the ground in our own repulsorlift-powered vehicle. While true landspeeders and speeder bikes might still be a ways off, there is (a new) hope. The previously mentioned Drone 3 hoverbike isn't big enough yet to fly a real person around, but its maker, Malloy Aeronautics, has been hard at work trying to develop the world's first flying motorcycle. And they're not the only company working on it either; aerospace firm Aerofex has even been testing its own hoverbikes in the Mojave desert. With this many interested parties, we're holding out hope that it won't be too long before we're ready for some souped-up drag-racing.

X-Wings

It may lack something of the compact size or sleek lines of the Incom T-65 Space Superiority Fighter, but Elon Musk's SpaceX project bears at least a superficial resemblance to the iconic Star Wars snubfighter (which also makes a striking water-skimming appearance in the new trailer). The company's Falcon 9 (wonder where they got that name *ahem*) rocket uses “hypersonic grid fins” in an "x-wing" configuration to help stabilize it upon landing. No word yet on its ability to take down a Death Star, should that need arise. (Granted, who besides Elon Musk would actually be likely to build a Death Star?)

Lightsabers

Who hasn't wanted to wield their own lightsaber? Certainly not your humble correspondent, who may have built his own custom model last time he visited Disneyland. While the laser swords wielded by the Jedi Knights may still be more science fiction than reality, scientists from Harvard and MIT have managed to construct "molecules" out of light, which could allow them to actually build "objects" out of photons, rather than instead having them simply pass through each other. Great, as long as you don't mind having your lightsaber duels at sub-atomic levels. In the meantime, check out this handy guide to building your own LED-powered model at home. We're sure a T-shaped upgrade is right around the corner.

Laser cannons

Lightsabers may be fiction, but laser-based weapons are firmly in the realm of fact. The U.S. Navy already has one deployed on an active warship, the USS Ponce. The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) is primarily designed for combatting aerial threats, such as drones. Unlike Star Wars's blasters, though, real-world lasers are a little less impressive to look at; you won't see any red or green bolts shooting into the targets. Instead, LaWS essentially burns holes in its targets by keeping the high-powered laser trained on them for long periods of time. In other words, Greedo would have had to sit still a lot longer in order for Han to shoot first.

Space travel for all

Okay, nobody's even remotely close to duplicating the Millennium Falcon, a.k.a. the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. That doesn't stop me from wanting one, complete with Wookiee co-pilot. Consumer space travel has been around for a few decades now, provided you're among the super-rich, but the recent tragic crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo may signal a setback for those of us who want a taste of the astronaut lifestyle. However, a recent deal between Boeing, NASA, and space tourism firm Space Adventures might open the door for trips to outer space. But they still aren't going to be cheap, and you're probably not going to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.

This rolling droid from the trailer evokes the classic trilogy's R2-D2, while putting a new...spin...on things. But in real life...Lucasfilm
Sphero
Back in the real world, the $100 Sphero is a rolling robot ball that you can already control right from your smartphone or tablet.Sphero
Landspeeder
Landspeeders are personal ground transport in the Star Wars universe, hovering along on their repulsorlift fields. Fiction, right?Lucasfilm
Not entirely! Companies like Malloy Aeornautics and Aerofex have actually test piloted personal, flying hoverbikes, though they're still a ways from mass production.Aerofex
X-Wings
X-Wing fighters are the top-of-the line starfighters for the Rebel Alliance. But that distinctive cross-section isn't limited to the Star Wars universe...Lucasfilm
SpaceX Falcon 9

Falcon 9

It also inspired the "hypersonic grid fins" that help SpaceX's Falcon 9 make a stable landing.SpaceX
Lightsaber
The lightsaber: an elegant weapon for a more civilized age...Lucasfilm
Obama with a lightsaber

President Obama Wields A Light Saber

All right, lightsabers are still pretty far off. But scientists have taken their first steps into a larger world by creating "molecules" of light that might someday let them build things from photons.
Lasers
Blasters are the common weapon of the Star Wars universe, from the model that Han Solo carried on his hip to the ones mounted on TIE Fighters. But lasers are already seeing combat...Lucasfilm

Laser Weapons System (LaWS)

The U.S. Navy already has a ship-mounted laser that's used, defensively, for tasks like taking down drones. But a handheld blaster pistol is probably still more fiction than fact.U.S. Navy
Millennium Falcon
Nobody's about to duplicate the Millennium Falcon, the modified YT-1300 light freighter piloted by Han Solo. But more important is what it signifies: that space travel in the Star Wars universe isn't just for the elite...Lucasfilm
Boeing CST-100

CST-100

Boeing aims to send humans to the International Space Station in their 'Starliner' in 2017.Boeing