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How (Un)Realistic Are Sci-Fi Weapons?

From lightsabers to exosuits, sci-fi movies sure have tons of awesome and lethal weapons that we all wanted as kids (or maybe until now.) It’s easy to choose them anytime over seemingly boring pistols, or rifles but the question is, how realistic (or unrealistic) are they?

The Lightsaber

A lightsaber user with a purple lightsaber. ©Gerardofegan / Wikimedia Commons

One of the most well-known sci-fi weapons, especially to Star Wars fans, is the Lightsaber. It is a “laser sword” powered by a kyber crystal. While truly an awesome fictional weapon, the problem with it is that it defies the laws of physics. (Sorry, Isaac Newton!) A laser pulse is around 300x the speed of light, which means it should be invisible to the naked eye. There have been some attempts to try to create one. However, 1.) With plasma, and not a laser, and; 2.) they have to wear a backpack that carries the computer control and the propane and oxygen fuel. Plus, imagine how expensive it could be to keep it up and running. Nonetheless, it’s still pretty amazing.

Battle Exosuits of Edge of Tomorrow

A scene in Edge of Tomorrow. Photo; Warner Bros.

In the movie Edge of Tomorrow, Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) had to combat aliens invading the Earth. He had to wear military-grade exoskeletons that turned them into super soldiers. They can run faster, jump higher, and lift impossibly heavy objects. These exoskeletons are even equipped with rocket launchers. Plus, they look super cool. Is it realistically possible? Unless we can come up with a lightweight, portable power supply that could power the suit and last for at least, say, 5 hours, it would remain in the sci-fi realm. Lockheed Martin is developing exoskeleton technologies, called ONYX, that could help soldiers increase their mobility and reduce walking and climbing efforts. However, ONYX is a knee-exoskeleton and not a full-body, heavy suit. And what if you have to go to the bathroom?

 

Judge Dredd’s the Lawgiver

Judge Dredd comics. Photo from Ace Comics

The Lawgiver is a voice-activated machine pistol that’s capable of firing different guided ammunitions from a single cartridge and has a range of up to three miles. It has a palm print of the registered authorized user and will self-destruct if somebody else attempts to use it. With AI-based voice assistants becoming widely used like Alexa and Siri, it is not hard to imagine that the Lawgiver could be possible. On the other hand, it might be unrealistic because:

  • It is fairly hard, if not impossible, to fit in multiple types of ammunition in a small, hand-held gun, especially powerful, high-explosive ones.
  • Developing a tracking-capable bullet that small could be a difficult task. While there are already weapons that guide themselves to the target, they are usually bombs and missiles that use computer-aided guidance and control systems to reach the target. They also use fins and rocket motors to steer themselves, none of which can be imagined fitting inside a bullet that still needs mass to do the damage done by a conventional bullet.  And it would be cheaper to just learn to shoot straight, wouldn’t it?

Verdict

Science fiction can make us wonder about our capabilities and limitations in creating weapons that are as badass as what we see in the movies. While some of them are outrageously impossible, it isn’t impossible to imagine that some of them might be real someday. In the Sci-Fi masterpiece of 1872, “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,” author Jules Verne imagined a seemingly nuclear-powered submarine he called the Nautilus. At the time, we can be sure that people scoffed and mocked at this unrealistic weapon that Verne had conjured from his imagination.  Yet, just 70 years later, an actual nuclear submarine came into being and sailed submerged beneath the North Pole.  Its name was also “Nautilus.”  So you can’t really know if an actual lightsaber, blaster, or Lawgiver will remain pure fantasy.  As Pablo Picasso once said, “Everything you can imagine is real.”

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