The Star Wars Landspeeder: Will it Ever Really Exist?
Anyone who understands cars knows that wheels are a drag - literally. They create a problem called “rolling resistance” that some engineers spend their entire careers trying to eliminate. So long as vehicles depend on tires, however, the challenge will exist to some degree. There are ways to fight this drawback; so-called “low rolling friction tires” are one example. But what if there was a way to get rid of the issue entirely? What if cars could literally float on a bed of anti-gravity beams or some equally exotic idea from science fiction? Those who have seen the Star Wars films are familiar with this concept. It’s the idea behind the landspeeder vehicles, like the one that gets Luke Skywalker and his friends around Tatooine in the 1977 film. Sadly, the future Jedi knight has to sell his trusty ride to pay Han Solo’s fare, though this proves to be a worthy investment by the end of the film. RELATED: See Photos of a Ferrari F1 Car that Hovers
Tech details are a little fuzzy on how landspeeders work, largely because the technology doesn’t exist yet. But we know that they hover 1-2 meters off the ground and are driven forward by turbojets mounted on the vehicle's’ rear. In the Star Wars universe, landspeeders are distinguished from airspeeders in the level of altitude they can obtain.
The films depict a number of craft that use the same technology. These include futuristic versions of motorcycles, pickups trucks, and even freight haulers. Sometimes landspeeders are equipped with weapons, as with the Gian speeder used by Naboo troops.
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Creating the Illusion
George Lucas was keen on the idea of wheelless vehicles since he first conceived of the idea for Star Wars. This created a special challenge for the producers of the original film, as the state of CGI in the 1970s was primitive. The speeder used in the first film was actually mounted on wheels; the film crew used a number of tricks to create the appearance that it was floating. For long-distance shots they applied gelatin or reflective materials to the camera lenses; for close-up takes they simply cut the wheels out of the frame.
These techniques got the job done. But they often left a blurred image under the craft under the craft, which Lucas explained as a side effect of the technology used to nullify gravity. Roger Christian, the film’s production designer, used a broom to make it look as if the speeder was kicking up dust. Lucas later employed CGI to enhance these effects in the special edition version of the film.
Special effects are part of what makes science fiction films possible. They first enabled filmmakers to dispense with the “rockets on wires” and other silly-looking efforts used in the 1930s and 40s.
A separate issue, however, is whether landspeeders will ever exist in the real world. As with so many questions about the future, the answer is a definitive “maybe.”
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Real-World Landspeeders in 2015?
The major hurdle in building a landspeeder is the whole bit about cancelling gravity. No one has the faintest idea how to do it as it’s portrayed in the movies. But humans have developed numerous ways of fighting off the effects of gravity - at least until the fuel runs out. For example, helicopters create air flow that pushes the craft into the air.
That’s the principle behind the Aerofex company's “landspeeder,” which uses two separate blades to create the hovering effect. The firm released a video in 2012 that shows their version in action. It moves at speeds up to 45 mph and rises as much as 10 feet off the ground. The rider maneuvers it by leaning in towards the desired direction. Final versions aren’t for sale just yet, but word on the street is that Aerofex is taking pre-orders for delivery some time in 2015.
So, while the anti-gravity versions from the films aren’t here just yet, we are one step closer to seeing them become reality.
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