Now that we’ve got this whole Internet thing figured out (right?), transportation is one of the big tech growth spots for the 21st century. And as we work to move people and cargo faster, smarter, and more efficiently, what better benchmark is there for evaluating our progress into the future than Star Wars?
Yes, of course the films take place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away—put down those torches. But that just makes it even crazier that some of the wildest aspects of the fantasy films are either already here, or getting close. Here are just a few of Fortune’s favorite examples.
[Note: None of the following is based on The Force Awakens, so enjoy some spoiler-free reading.]
Let’s say it right off the bat: as a military vehicle, the AT-AT’s design is incredibly misguided. But that hasn’t stopped the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (with help from Boston Dynamics) from scaling the concept down into a creepy robots with names like Spot, BigDog, and Cheetah. They’re largely intended to accompany future soldiers, but apparently also need to be able to throw cinder blocks for some reason.
With his Mandalorian armor, Boba Fett still has the distinct edge in helmet design. But JetPack Aviation has finally perfected a real jetpack nearly as sleek as his. The pack, known as the JB-9, hasn’t gone to market yet, and the company says it will carefully screen prospective customers with a focus on emergency responders. And that may limit its impact on the bounty hunting economy.
We could go retro-futuristic on this one, and point to recent progress in the ongoing quest to build a flying car. But even more interesting is the concept of a true land-based hover vehicle, which startup Arx Pax says is possible using its mag-lev technology. The only downside is you’d need a road made of aluminum—so Luke’s landspeeder is still far, far away.
In the prequel films, we get some up-close views of the city-planet Coruscant, where speeders and other near-surface vehicles flow in neatly interlocking airborne traffic patterns—without any visible traffic signals. That implies computer control and wireless communication, tech we’re already developing on Earth. In fact, the Department of Transportation is expected to announce standards for wireless vehicle communication any day now.
And if you’re wondering, yes, Coruscant has its own Department of Transportation. You can’t even escape the reality of bureaucracy in a fantasy film, it seems.
Star Wars is full of flying droids and robot soldiers. But in the real world, most of their counterparts, both in war and commerce, are still remote-controlled by humans. However autonomous drones are proliferating, doing everything from mapping to rescue to law enforcement work—as well as triggering fears about their threat to humanity.
Yes, you’re getting two prequel references. (After all, “always two there are,” says Yoda.) Surprisingly, we live in a world with a few options when it comes to futuristic racing. However, a circuit for electric robot cars was recently announced, pairing Formula One excitement with driverless technology. But those races won’t begin until 2016, so in the meantime we’ll just have to be entertained with first person video drone racing:
This is the big kahuna. It’s hard to say whether we’ve made much progress towards an interstellar future since the moon landings, but the entrance of private companies into the space race has been encouraging. Between Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and Jeff Bezos’s recently launched Blue Origin, we’ve certainly got at least enough ego and ambition to get make the jump to hyperspace, someday.
For more on the real-life business of Star Wars, enjoy this Fortune video:
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