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Science Fiction Roundup: Hunger Games for Robots, Cloning Mammoths, AR Glasses, and a Parrot

Hello everyone! I know last week I promised an analysis of the writing mistakes in the ending of Mass Effect 3, but seeing as I haven’t quite finished it yet (Spring Break wasn’t quite long enough), I thought I should probably save that for next week. So, instead, here’s a roundup of a bunch of sci-fi-related articles that are both great story material, and stuff I thought was pretty cool.

The Hunger Games Arena, Now With Robots

With the new Hunger Games movie coming out this Friday, it’s not surprising that this article coming from LiveScience made the comparison of the US Navy’s recently opened Laboratory of Autonomous Research and the sadistic death arena of Suzanne Collins’ bestseller. The facility, a multi-environment testing center complete with wave beach, forty-one foot deep ‘ocean’ tank, jungle, and desert areas, is designed as a testing center for robots and soldiers alike (although the story claims these are strictly not pitted against each other in a battle to the death). Check out the link for more details, and some less-than-thrilling pictures. Honestly, couldn’t they have at least painted the walls or something?

Navy Opens ‘Hunger Games’ Arena for Military Robots (LiveScience)

Cloning Baby Mammoths ‘Jurrassic Park’ Style

mummified baby mammoth

Picture courtesy of Singularity Hub

Ok, so the mammoth-mummy is kind of creepy, but cloning an ancient breed of enormous prehistoric elephants couldn’t possibly be a bad idea, now could it? Some Korean scientists don’t think so! It’s actually a joint venture with a bunch of different groups, all attempting to figure out a way to fertilize the egg of a modern-day elephant with the DNA of the extinct variety (to what purpose I have no idea, except SCIENCE!). Check out the link below for more details!

Korean and Russian Scientists Trying to Resurrect Mammoths (Singularity Hub)

Augmented Reality Glasses Are A Thing Now

Augmented reality, the superimposing of computer-generated images and information on the environment, is one of my favorite technologies, much more so since Google’s recent project came to light. Well, it seems a few other companies aren’t willing to let Google take the consumer AR market for themselves, as Microsoft has recently filed a patent for their own prototype, a device that actually fires low-powered visible lasers into the retina of each eye to form the images. It might sound scary and dangerous, but it’s actually a very clever way of getting around the focusing issue of having a screen so close to the eye, since the image will now be in the eye. Also, it seems a year ago Sony had a prototype 3D tv headset at the CES, which they are developing for movie and videogame entertainment. Not actually AR, but I just know someone’s going to stick a Kinect on that thing and turn it into a proper setup. Check out the links below!

Google’s AR Glasses Expected by Year’s End (PC World)

Microsoft Patents Laser-Based Display Technology (Ars Technica)

Sony’s Head-Mounted 3D Display (from last year, Ars Technica)

The Parrot AR Drone 2: Twice the Fun and None of the Molting

I’ve talked about how drones are likely to become very common in both military and civilian life, but before now there haven’t been any practical and affordable civilian drones available. The original Parrot drone, in fact, was too expensive and far too fragile to be reasonable, but since the quadricopter’s recent reboot, I’m betting there will be a new market surge of competition. The Parrot AR Drone 2 uses four propellers and a specialized balancing setup for stability, making it easy for even novice pilots to control with their iPhone or iPad (sadly, no Android devices), and a built-in camera that sends a live feed through a 3G internet connection to the controlling device. Check out the link below for more information!

The Parrot AR Drone 2 in Action (Singularity Hub)

That’s all for now! Next week I’ll have my analysis of Mass Effect 3’s writing issues. Until then, how well do you think the AR glasses popping up will actually do once they’re on the market? Are we looking at another 3D tv non-craze in the making? Let me know in the comments below!

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Science Fiction Problems: Technological Plausibility

Battle Mech With Assault Rifle

Some day... *sigh*

Hello again and welcome to another Science Fiction Problems here at While We’re Paused!

Science Fiction commonly speculates on future technology, with varying success as some writers take a few more liberties with the laws of physics and reality than others (I’m looking at you, Star Trek). Many of the cool things presented simply do not jive with reality, and in some cases, can be easily proven to be impossible. While some readers (or viewers, or players in the case of video games of the genre) may not recognize the problem, if there is not a reasonable explanation for unfamiliar technology, even the least critical among your audience will feel like you don’t know what you’re talking about. I know I keep coming back to this point, as I discussed it in The Rules of the World and Why You Need Them, but in the case of speculative technology, you cannot afford to have your audience think your ideas couldn’t possibly work. The easiest way to address this difficulty is to base your future technology on currently emerging ones. Here are a few examples of some of my favorites:

Exoskeletons:

Ripley's Power Loader Aliens Movie

The Power Loader from the movie...

Here’s a staple of Science Fiction wherever you find it. From its origin in E. E.

Power Loader exoskeleton

...and a power loader piloted by a silly asian man.

Smith’s Lensmen series to Ripley’s power loader of the Aliens series, these strength-augmenting suits have been in movies and novels since Science Fiction first began. Interestingly enough, the ideas eventually lead to the development of real-life exoskeletons which are being built for military applications, and potentially for more dexterous industrial machinery. This is far from fantastical in its most basic form, but it can be almost magical and unrealistic, and at that point we get something more along the lines of Gundum Wing than actual, scientific technology. This is not to say you can’t have giant battle suits duking it out in your story, but for heaven’s sake, at least briefly explain how they are able to power the things, and why those suits are more practical than any number of tracked or wheeled vehicles that the military already employs.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality Contact Lens Screens Raygun Studio

I want these soooo badly. Photo by Raygun Studio

This concept in technology has become far more familiar since the advent of the home video game console, such as the Nintendo Wii system, and more recently, Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral. In general, augmented reality is the projection of computer generated images onto real-world images in real time. This is one of my favorite technologies, and one particular project I am keeping a close eye on is the LED screen contact lens. Once these are perfected, the wearer could have the kind of computer-vision you see in the Terminator movies, where the computer adds relevant information and visual aids to their environment. The applications for this technology are vast, and as a science fiction idea, they add a lot of background feel to the story while not straying too far from the believable.

BrainGate brain-computer interface

A fairly primitive bionic interface, but a start at least.

Brain-Computer Interface

While the previous technology is not so easily abused to groan-worthy levels, this one has already seen almost limitless potential for half-baked application. Since not many of us are telepathic, the ability to project commands to a computer with mere thought is something of an ordeal to actually demonstrate, but at this time it is technically feasible. Currently, the most impressive success in this field is the demonstration of one individual’s ability to control a computer cursor with his mind, but this involved the surgical implantation of sensors into the user’s brain. To say, control the actions of an entire spacecraft with one’s mind is a little out of reach at the moment (if you happen to have the spacecraft in any case), but the proof of concept is there. With these implants, it would likely also be possible to give the brain sensory information from the computer, giving the user the illusion of physical interactions and tactile response.

These are only a few examples of Science Fiction ideas that are based on real life technology, and in many cases, the science fiction was the inspiration for the technology itself. By basing your own speculative technologies on current ideas, you can project a potential for what may become of our newest ideas, and create realistic worlds that can easily draw in and immerse your audience.

So, what are some technologies you have seen in books or movies that you’ve seen become reality?