by Ian Fortey
In the late 1980s and early 90s, it seemed like we were in for a holographic revolution. There was an infuriatingly bad arcade game about a holographic cowboy convincing kids that holograms were the next big thing, and Star Trek: The Next Generation gave us Holodecks as an entirely plausible form of futuristic entertainment/interactive murder. Fast forward a few years, and we have hologram Tupac and the iPhone promising a holographic display (Jason and Brian actually made one). But none of it is really the awesome sci-fi stuff we're hoping for. And it's not just holograms, either. There's a lot of sci fi tech we were expecting to be enjoying in the future of right now. So where is it? Well, it turns out a bunch of it is actually already here ...
Androids Are Pretty Much Here ... And Yes, They're Still Creepy
Sci fi has been promising human-like robots and the inevitable uprising that follows for ages now; the word "robot" itself was coined back in 1920, so this is an idea we've had for a long time. And while movie robots are often just metal humans that excel at traveling through time to become California governors, real robots are often just arms that assemble car doors. Where's all the cool tech?
In its mind, there's a still-beating human heart in that hand.
The best 'droid bang for your buck these days is a robot in Japan named Kengoro. Researchers at the University of Tokyo have designed Kengoro to mimic human movement -- the thing can do pushups, crunches and even play a bit of badminton because it's a legit sport worthy of your respect.
They gave it a full skeletal structure that mimics human bones as well as comparable joints and "muscles". The result is a robot that has extremely human characteristics. This is made uncomfortably clear when you learn that, because of all the heat the robot generates as it moves, they had to design a cooling system, consisting of tubes of water that vent steam. In other words, Kengoro sweats when it works too hard. Just like dad! But unlike dad, Kengoro doesn't need a beer after mowing 2/5 of the lawn.
Why build a terrifying man-bot? The idea is that Kengoro will help us understand more about ourselves. If a robot responds like a human, then using it as a crash test dummy could help us design safer cars. Or artificial limbs. Or even just understand how bone and muscle injuries work and how to better treat them in a way that terrifies children and, if we're being honest, most adults.
Oh, Jesus, it knows The Undertaker's moves!
Though we prefer to think that it would make a great bar buddy. It would laugh at your lame jokes and pretend it hasn't heard it 40 times. It would high five you after a sweet pool shot. And if you got super bored, you could pit it against someone else's Kengoro in the most awesome bar fight ever imagined.
We Finally Have A Tony Stark Style Jet Pack
Is any technology more representative of the future than jet packs? It's the go-to joke for denouncing the current state of technological advancement and has been for years: "Pfft. Whatever. Where's my jetpack?" Well chill out, because jet packs exist ... they're just not super cost effective, kind of clunky, and you'll still never be Boba Fett or the Rocketeer.
The best jetpack you're likely to find right now is the one Richard Browning and Gravity Technologies put together that basically makes you fly around like Iron Man. Instead of a big fan on your back like the Martin Jet Pack, or one of those high powered hoses like the aqua jet packs that keep you tethered to a lake, the Daedalus Jet pack straps a rocket to your butt, and then two more on each hand so you use your arms just like Tony Stark to either hover in place or set yourself in motion. Of course you need some insane upper body strength to pull it off, since it doesn't have the cool iron arms to stand up to the stress of holding your body while rockets lift you off the ground, but it's a step in the right direction and will probably help you look cool to Scarlet Johansson. Maybe.
We Have Flying Cars, But They'll Be Taxis Before You Own One
The idea that we'd one day have flying cars is one of those things that never goes away. It seems like a logical progression for vehicle technology, right? We figured out the Volvo and the Seadoo; it makes sense we should master the air. The Jetsons had flying cars, and that show's so old that no one under 30 even knows about it anymore. When's this stuff coming?
People have been designing flying cars for quite a while now -- let's be honest, the difference between a flying car and a plane that just hasn't taken off yet is pretty minimal. But in the practical sense, there's not a lot of progress being made for the common person. You probably haven't seen your neighbor shooting off into the sky during rush hour to skip the gridlock, so who cares? But there are models being designed ostensibly toward the goal of one day trusting you with several hundred pounds of metal and plastic high above the ground. Which is frightening, since most of us here at The Modern Rogue can barely be trusted to even walk.
A Germany company called Lilium has successfully tested an electric flying taxi that is able to hover and take off vertically like a drone that they hope can one day be your Uber in the sky. Other companies including Uber itself, Google, Tesla, Terrafugia and Airbus are playing with the technology too, but Lilium got it literally off the ground first with a vehicle that runs on pretty much the same amount of power as an electric car. Except this badboy can travel 190 miles at 186 mph, making it the fastest way to get to a Taco Bell during the halftime show.
The issue with personal style flying cars is the fact that they're probably the worst idea in the history of transportation, next to riding a drunken horse down an icy hill. What happens when you run out of power in mid air? What happens when you hit a Canada goose? What happens when you hit another guy in his flying car? The regulations, safety precautions and logistical hurdles are probably 100 times more complex than the actual technology, and even if all of that gets worked out, do you trust the same people who can't drive on a flat road right now to manage the skies?
Laser Guns Are Finally A Thing (No Word On Lightsabers Yet)
Star Trek, Star Wars and GI Joe taught us that the future of warfare will be red laser beams, occasionally mixed with blue or green, depending on your alignment, and they will blow up stuff so good. The thing is, we already have lasers. They're just so boring, we buy them as cat toys now. So what the heck happened to the cool lasers that blow up planets and cause a great disturbance in the Force?
Lockheed Martin has diverted resources from its cat toy division to make the Athena laser, an invisible killer that in some pretty dramatic field tests was able to shoot 5 out of 5 drones out of the sky and burn a hole clean through a pick-up truck. It's not red and doesn't go "pew!" but science can only take us so far.
In the past, the problem with lasers as weapons was kind of two-fold: One was being fast enough to nail a moving target. The machines that produced the beams were so clunky, they weren't practical. The other was that the amount of power needed to make a functional laser weapon made them impossible to use at any kind of manageable size. They were big, slow monsters. But the Athena laser is comparable in size to many other military weapon systems, and obviously it's pretty fast if it's shooting drones out of the sky. The next step is attaching them to light posts so they can vaporize people who cut you off in traffic.
Or mounting them to flying cars and turning the whole planet into a Mad Max arena of chaos.
Space Travel For Citizens Has Already Started
Some years ago, Captain Kirk and his hair told us that space was the final frontier because, in the Star Trek universe, mankind had already seen every cat video on the internet and there was no place left to go here on Earth. And realistically, we're climbing into that same boat. For decades, space travel has been strictly under the control of government agencies, and astronauts were the only people who were actually qualified to do it. Now your only qualification for space exploration is a bank account.
And a keen love of pointy lifeforms.
Space X is at the forefront of private space travel. Just this month (January of 2018 for you future people) they gave their Falcon heavy rocket a test fire to see if the massive beast will work to take large payloads like satellites into space, and everyone was good. This is the same rocket that will probably be taking people to Mars one day. But as for right now, you can still hitch a ride on a Space X rocket ... two tourists paid to take a spin around the moon, scheduled for late 2018. The price tag isn't being publicly discussed, but the cost of sending an astronaut around the moon, according to companies that currently launch any Tom, Dick and Harry towards the sun, is probably about $70 to $175 million.
A company called Space Adventures (sigh) will take you to the International Space Station and let you go for a space walk, all for the bargain basement price of ... well, it's actually kind of hard to nail down. Back in 2006, an eight day trip to the space station cost around $15 million. As more and more companies step into the space flight business, prices are starting to dip into the meager six-digits range. They've already sent seven tourists to the International Space Station and have plans to send people to the moon in the next couple of years.
Promise? Like ... permanently?
You can also hitch a ride with Virgin Galactic which will take you above the Kármán line, the sort of loosely defined border between us and the vast emptiness beyond. You can spend 6 minutes enjoying weightlessness, which is probably enough time to pull off a hilarious prank with your pee, and snap a few cool selfies before coming back down to Earth, all for the bargain bin price of $250,000. It's like they're giving it away!
Maybe we should add one of those trips to our Patreon.
Like this article? Check out "5 People Who Got Fed Up With Expensive Stuff And Just Built It Themselves" and "5 People Who Took Con Artistry To Crazy New Heights".