Science Fiction Roundup: Updates on Lasers, Railguns, PETMAN, and Virtual Reality

Hello everyone! Last week I started into examining the historical context of Cyberpunk within the history of Science Fiction, but I decided to put that on hold until next week as I reexamine my direction for the series. It’s been a month since my last round of posts, and there have been loads of articles that I have wanted to talk about, so I was going to do a Round-up at some point anyway. Might as well do it now! If you’re not familiar with these posts, my rules for them are thus: find cool articles about science and technology that would make a cool or interesting story idea. Enjoy!

The Navy Really Does Get All the Coolest Toys

If you haven’t been following my Roundups for a while, you might assume that Naval technology has basically stayed the same since the World Wars, other than the inclusion of more nuclear subs and sophisticated jetfighters. As cool as cannons the size of trees are, the Navy has been trying to find effective replacements for their outdated systems and gradually retrofit their ships. There are two major and surprising directions that this development has gone: lasers and railguns.

LaWS (Laser Weapons System)

The navy has been looking at lasers for a while, and I’ve taken a look at many projects, some of which are now defunct. But the idea of lasers on battleships has stuck around, and one current solution is being introduced for the U.S.S. Ponce, commissioned in 1971, to get a shiny new laser to shoot drones and enemy speedboats. The weapon is actually much cheaper to operate than conventional weapons, and much faster and more reliable than the typical cannon solutions.

Source: PopSci

GA Blitzer Railgun

It’s not hard to imagine this on a spacecraft or future tank. I’ve actually been following this particular weapon system for a while and seen it go from warehouse-sized machine to something looking much more like a cannon. The railgun fires its projectile with staged electromagnetic pulses, hitting air, sea, and land targets up to 200 nautical miles away. It’s so effective, there’s almost no application it isn’t good for, making it a solution for naval combat, artillery strikes, anti-air, and even missile defense.

PETMAN 2: The Return

I’ve covered this particular robot several times now due to his high publicity and coolness factor. PETMAN, another project by Boston Dynamics, the creators of BigDog, another well-known robot developed for DARPA, the research and development arm of the US military. They still claim this is just for testing new chemical suit designs, but I don’t buy it.

Source: 33rd Square

Virtual Reality Glove? Please.

Virtual reality is one area of science fiction and technology that I get really excited about. It’s all about immersion: how do you make the user feel like they’re really present in the simulated environment? The visual aspect of this is quickly being solved, however, the method of control is very difficult. Sure, you can give someone a controller and leave it at that, but some companies are vying for more elegant solutions. Thalmic Labs’ MYO has the advantage of being useful for many applications (I don’t think I’d mind at all using that armband for every computer interface, if they found a way to make it easily transferable), but adding natural motion controls that rely on actual muscle movement rather than trying to teach a computer to read an understand gestures is probably a much more direct approach than the motion control technologies we see in other industries (the current generations of video game consoles, for example). Extrapolate this to the entire body, and you’ve got yourself a full-fledged VR suit.

Source: Singularity Hub

Virtual Reality Meet Virtual Exertion

Sorry for the Vimeo link, it looks like there isn’t a Youtube equivalent. This project, from University of Wisconsin-Madison, struck me as very closely related to the MYO project above. I’ve talked about virtual reality at length, especially the problems associated with attempting to replicate the holodeck from Star Trek, and it hadn’t occurred to me to go about it this way, at least as a stopgap. I remember quite clearly straining my muscles when pretending to lift some heavy, imaginary thing when I was little. I even still today, when playing a videogame where something has to be lifted or pushed, often strain my own muscles when immersed in the task. Using this sort of feedback, where the computer  measures your strain to determine how much force to apply to an object, seems like a very effective way to integrate force feedback into virtual reality without running into the problem of requiring couch potatoes to actually perform strenuous tasks.

That’s it for this week! I hope these ideas will come in handy for your science fiction stories. Until next week, do you think that motion controls like the MYO will become the norm? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below!


About erikthereddest

I'm a Masters student in English, and I love technology and Science Fiction. I am refining and enhancing my (admittedly novice) writing talents under the sage advice of my friends here at Lantern Hollow Press, and with the great many books I am reading from the best authors I can find.

Posted on April 10, 2013, in Erik Marsh, Inspiration, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, Science Fiction Roundup, Star Trek, Technology, Universes, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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