The Future is Here: Light-Bending Invisibility Cloaks!

predator-invisibilityInvisibility cloaks are fast becoming a reality. That is to say, they are moving out of the realm of science fiction and the theoretical and into the realm of science fact. However, issues remain when it comes to developing this technology for real-world applications. Outside of adaptive camouflage that merely allow objects to blend into the background, true invisibility cloaks suffer from the problem of angles.

To break it down, invisibility cloaks are based on the scientific principle of bending light around an object, thereby rendering it invisible to sight. The problem with every device based on this principle built to date is that it only worked if both the viewer and whatever was cloaked remained still. This, of course, is not entirely practical since it means that a cloaked object would only be invisible from one angle.

invisibility_cloakHowever, the latest effort to create a true cloak – developed at the University of Rochester – not only overcomes some of the limitations of previous devices, but relies on inexpensive, readily available materials in a novel configuration. For the first time ever, researchers have made a cloaking device that works multidirectionally in three dimensions and uses no specialized equipment, but four standard lenses.

As well as at least partially solving the viewpoint problem, the Rochester cloak also leaves the background undisturbed, without any warping, as has appeared in other devices. As Joseph Choi, a professor of physics at Rochester University John Howell, explained:

There’ve been many high tech approaches to cloaking and the basic idea behind these is to take light and have it pass around something as if it isn’t there, often using high-tech or exotic materials. This is the first device that we know of that can do three-dimensional, continuously multidirectional cloaking, which works for transmitting rays in the visible spectrum.

invis_cloak_rochIn order to both cloak an object and leave the background undisturbed, the researchers determined the lens type and power needed, as well as the precise distance to separate the four lenses. To test their device, the off-the-shelf lenses were placed at such a distance from each other so as to allow the light to act in specific ways – first focusing it down to a fine point through one lens, then again through the next, and then repeated.

This bends the light so that an object in the ring-shaped cloaking field is not visible to a person peering through the array. To be sure, they placed the object being viewed through the lenses in front of a grid background, and then shifted the viewing angle. In all cases, with the grid background appeared perfectly normal, with no discontinuity appearing behind the cloaked object.

invisibility_cloak1Their simple configuration improves on other cloaking devices, but it’s not perfect. As Choi explained, the the cloak bends light and sends it through the center of the device, so the “on-axis region cannot be blocked or cloaked.” This means that the cloaked region is shaped like a doughnut. In addition, the cloak has edge effects, but these can be reduced by using larger lenses, and the team has some more complicated designs to address the other issues.

For the time being, the technology isn’t exactly workable as far as Predator-style invisibility cloaks are concerned. However, Howell and Choi had some more benign applications in mind, such as allowing surgeons to operate without their view being obstructed by their own hands. Also, such a device could be used to allow truck drivers or even regular commuters see through their vehicle’s blind spots.

And, because the setup is so simple, anyone can grab some lenses and give it a try. You can find instructions for doing so on the Rochester University website, and a paper describing the research on arXiv. And of course, the University of Rochester was sure to provide a video of the cloak being tested out. Check it out below:


Sources:
cnet.com, arxiv.org, rochester.edu

The Future is Here: The Invisibility Cloak!

quantum-stealth-fieldInvisibility cloaks have long been considered the next frontier of modern warfare. With stealth aircraft, stealth ships and even stealth tanks in service or on well on their way, it seems like the time is ripe for a stealth soldier. But difficulties remains. Whereas cloaking planes, ships and tanks is a matter of simply coating them in materials that can obscure them from radar and thermal imagine, soldiers need camouflage that can move, bend and flex with them.

In recent years, the efforts to produce a working “invisibility cloak” have born considerable fruit. And while most of these took the form of large, cumbersome, desk-mounted constructions that were more of a proof of concept for the material being tested, they did demonstrate that the technology itself worked. This was certainly true of the “cloak” which was created by scientists at Duke University in November of 2012.

INVISIBILITY-CLOAKAnd then came news the following month that a Canadian company named Hyperstealth developed a material that renders the wearer “completely invisible by bending light waves around the target.” Known as “Quantum Stealth”, this true cloak is an apparent follow-up to their SmartCamo – a material that could reportedly adjust its camouflage markings to match its surroundings – that was released at the International Camouflage Symposium in 2010.

Unfortunately, due to security reasons, little was ever known about SmartCamo other than its reported abilities. The same holds true for Quantum Stealth, which the company has been forced to remain clandestine about due the demands of the US Army, to whom they are contracted. So until such time as it enters widespread use, the details and inner workings of the technology will remain inaccessible.

invisibility_cloak1Luckily, the University of Texas in Austin is under no such constrictions, and it is from them that the latest and greatest news comes. In addition to being composed of conventional materials, their new cloak measures a mere 166 micrometers thick and is capable of obscuring an object from multiple directions at once. And though it may not be able to render a soldier truly invisible, it does render them all but invisible to radar detection, which is the intent here.

The fabrication process involved placing a 66µm-thick sheet of carbon (or a metascreen) onto a a 100µm-thick sheet of flexible polycarbonate. The copper is patterned specifically so that the scattered light from the cloak and the cloaked object cancel each other out. This flexible sheet also allows the cloak to conform to the shape of the object, or person, and provides cloaking from microwave radiation from all directions.

invisibility_cloak_uoftNow here’s where things get literal. The researchers responsible for this breakthrough have indicated that, in theory, this cloak could be used to cloak visible light as well. After all, microwaves, infrared and visible light are all physically identical; they are just waves that oscillate at different frequencies. And their design would be more capable of doing this than any cloak composed of metamaterials.

Still, size and scale are still an issue. Whereas their new patterned material scattering technique is capable of hiding an object from multiple directions, it also inversely scales with wavelength. That means that it is only capable of hiding micrometer-scale objects from 400-800THz of visible light. Still, this is exciting news and a step in the right direction!

Before we know it, stealth troopers could be marching all over the planet, invisible to the naked eye and any means of radar detection… Holy crap, what a scary thought! Is it too late to rethink this technology?

future_soldierSource: Extremetech.com, (2)

The Future is Here: Invisibility Cloaks (Cont’d)

An update on the ongoing efforts to create invisibility technology has been bearing some pretty interesting fruit. Earlier this year, scientists at Berkeley announced that they were working on a suit that would be capable of bending light around it. Unlike adaptive camouflage, this technology would not merely broadcast a background image to conceal a soldier, but would render them virtually invisible to the naked eye.

Well guess what? Scientists at Duke University have finally created a cloak that works. Granted, it is only capable of concealing objects on the centimeter-scale, it is the only cloak of its kind that is capable of channeling incident light around itself, creating perfect invisibility. In all previous cases, the devices created reflected a certain degree of incident light, leaving the concealed object disguised but discernible.

In addition to the small scale on which it functions, the cloak has a few additional drawbacks. For now, the Duke invisibility cloak only works with microwave radiation; and perhaps more importantly, the cloak is unidirectional, meaning it only provides invisibility from one very specific direction. But that should hardly matter, seeing as how such a device even exists. With a little time, development, and a big fat DARPA contract, soon we may be seeing cloaking devices that are capable of concealing something as large as a person, a vehicle or even a building.

The Duke cloaking device, pictured at left, is composed of metamaterials – an artificial, man-made material that almost always have a negative refractive index. A negative refractive index allows for the creation of some interesting things, such as superlenses that go beyond the diffraction limit; or in this case, invisibility cloaks. Due to their unusual index, they are capable of refracting light around an object so a viewer does not see the object, but what is behind the object.

But in addition to metamaterials, the compositional materials also need a to be arranged in such a way that the illusion is perfect. After all, a 3D object has multiple sides, and the wearer has to be expected to turn a corner and change direction at some point. All previous designers in this case have struggled to fashion metamaterials that bend waves around corners without causing reflections. In this case, it was researcher Nathan Landy, a Duke University student, who arranged the metamaterials into the shape of a diamond to acheive the desired effect, since diamonds are apparently the best shape for minimizing reflections.

According to the Duke team, the next step is to expand on their design and make their cloak omnidirectional, meaning that it can bend light around the object from all directions. Don’t worry, I’m thinking some rather interested parties (i.e. every high-tech developer and military on the planet) is likely to be knocking on their door real soon!

Source: Extreme Tech

Technology in the Star Trek Universe (updated!)

I’ve wanted to do a post like this for awhile, ever since my conceptual post on Galactic Empires in fact. After doing my research on what distinguished one from the other, I noticed just how central technology, or the perception thereof, is to it all.

And let’s face it, Star Trek has had a lot to say about technology over the years, not all of it consistent! So with a series of examples, I thought I’d examine just what Gene Roddenberry and his successors have had to say.

Cloaking Device:
First developed by the Romulan Empire, the concept for an invisibility field that encompasses an entire ship has been picked up by just about every advanced race in the galaxy. Considered impractical by many because of the intense power drain, other races have found ways to adapt it to give their ships a decided edge in combat.

One such race are the Klingons whose vessels all come equipped with a cloak. The Romulans maintain use of this technology on their military vessels, particularly their warbirds, and even the Federation has been known to dabble in it from time to time. Another discernible weakness is the presence of tachyons and anti-protons that cloaked vessels are known to produce.

Holodecks:
The holodeck is an advanced holoprojector device that was designed by Starfleet for use aboard starships, stations, and institutions. It serves the purpose of entertaining, training and training purposes. Using focused photons to simulate matter, the holodeck is able to create physically real virtual environments out of pure energy.

Because of their potential for danger, all holodecks come equipped with built-in safeguards. Matter created aboard the holodeck ceases to exist as soon as it passes beyond its generators, and the technology has been adapted to creating AI’s such as the ship’s emergency doctor program.

Hypospray:
This non-invasive piece of medical technology is the mainstay of Starfleet medical. Using a compressed air transport mechanism, this device is able to transfer the injectant painlessly from the device into the subdermal layer below the skin of the body, or artery.

In the original series, hyposprays resembled hypodermic needles, but by the time of the 24th century (the TNG series) they had become much more sophisticated, resembling the unit pictured at top left.

Phasers:
Short for phased-energy laser, phasers are the most common energy weapon in Starfleet and the known universe. Beginning in the 23rd century, the technology was adapted for use as hand-held weapons, military rifles, and as the primary weapons banks on ships.

The 24th century saw further developments in the development of this weapon, which included mutli-segment phaser arrays,  and phaser cannons. The former made their first appearance in TNG on the USS Enterprise D and other updated ships while the latter appeared for the first time on USS Defiant.

Replicators:
Using the same technology as the holodeck, a replicator is a matter-energy device that is capable of dematerializing quantities of small matter and reconstituting it as something else. This can take the form of food, commercial products, or machine parts. In short, anything can come out of a replicator so long as it has the atomic matrix down, and isn’t illegal!

Prior to TNG, Starfleet ships used food synthesizers, but by the 24th century, the technology had been perfected and made standard on all starships, stations, outposts and settlements. Because of their sheer usefulness and versatility, every advanced race has adapted the technology for their own use.

Shields:
Also known as Deflector Shields or Screens, these devices are the mainstay of all advanced races in the Star Trek universe. Operating by creating a layer, or layers, of energetic distortion containing a high concentration of gravitons, they are able to provide protection against weapons fire and natural hazards.

Typically, shields are emitted from either a central emitter dish or a series that are dispersed over the hull. They usually come in six sections, covering the fore, aft, port, starboard, dorsal and ventral areas of the ship. In time, shields can be dissipated by either continuous or repeated energy discharges, leaving the ship vulnerable.

Transporters:
Utilizing subspace technology and the same matter-to-energy concept as a holodeck, the transport is the principle means of transportation to and from ships in the Star Trek universe. Often referred to as “beaming”, transporters are able to dematerialize, transmit and reassemble an object from one pad to another.

Making its debut in the original series, the technology has been updated in the TNG universe and its various spinoffs to allow for greater accuracy and safety through the addition of added redundancies. This increased accuracy allows for point-to-point transport, usually within smaller areas like the ship itself.

Tricorders:
A handheld sensing device, the tricorder was invented by Starfleet specifically for use by Starfleet personnel. However, since their inception in the 22nd century, they’ve gone through repeated upgrades, adaptations and have been adopted by just about every advanced race in the Alpha Quadrant.

As it stands, there are six varieties of tricorder in use within Starfleet alone. These include the psychotricorder which measures a patients brainwaves, a medical tricorder which diagnoses ailments and injury, and four models (VI,VII, X and XV) all of which are in service in one branch of Starfleet or another.

Warp Drive:
In the Star Trek universe, the warp drive is both the primary means of transport and the pinnacle of a race’s technology. In fact, Starfleet only makes contact with a new alien race once they’ve developed this technology, as it’s felt that it is only at this point in a species’ development that they will be advanced enough to experience first contact.

First developed by the human race in the late 21st century, warp technology was what precipitated First Contact with the Vulcans. Utilizing a matter/antimatter process and a dilithium chamber, a warp drive generates a “warp field” to envelope a starship. This has the effect of distorting the local spacetime continuum and moving the starship at velocities that exceeded the speed of light.

Every advanced race in the Alpha Quadrant has this technology, though some are able to achieve greater velocities (known as warp factors) than others. In the course of the old series and new, new and more advanced forms of FTL are being researched which may replace standard warp. These include transwarp, quantum slipstream, and a host of others.

Conclusions:
Technology as Utopian:
For the most, part Star Trek seems to be making the point that technology is a good thing. Whether it was the original series, TNG, or the many spinoffs to follow, it seemed that humanity owed much of its current condition to technological progress. Though they never explained how, at many points in the franchise it is said that Earth is now a paradise, bereft of crime, bigotry, hunger, and inequality. Just about all known diseases have been cured, and even money has become obsolete.

Yes, it seems that in the future, the focus of the economy has shifted to one of “self-improvement”… Might seem a bit hokey on the surface, but as I said in the Galactic Empires post, it’s really not that farfetched. Although its still pure fiction, the advent of something like warp drive, which would make space travel quick and affordable, commerce and transport between colony worlds would be open. This would mean abundant resources that went far beyond Earth and the Solar System, and we already know just how rich our system is in resources (see Asteroid Mining).

But more importantly is the development of replicator technology, which comes in the form of personal and industrial sized units. The former are used to produce everything from food and clothing to consumer products while the latter can create just about anything in bulk quantity. If this were possible, then all scarcity and deprivation would cease to exist. What’s more, the entire basis of an unequal distribution of wealth would disappear. Frankly, it puts me in mind of what Orwell said in 1984:

From the moment that the machine first made its appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. If the machine were used deliberately for that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy and disease could be eliminated within a few generations.

By the “machine”, Orwell was of course referring to industrial technology and the economy it spawned. However, his overall point was clear. Modern technology, dedicated to the write purpose, had the ability to significantly raise the fortunes of all people. And let’s not forget how in the Star Trek universe, hyposprays and various medical devices can solve just about all that ails you! Break a bone, you get the bone knitter! Tear your ACL, you get the… ligament bonder. I don’t know, all I do know is that pain is virtually obsolete in this universe and its because of progress.

So really, Roddenberry wasn’t far off when he envisioned a “perfect society” in the future. It was just in how he failed to explain how this could done that things seemed a little weak. But of course, there was a flip side to the whole thing.

Technology as Dystopian:
But of course, there were plenty of examples of technology gone wrong. The examples are a little too many to name, so I’ll keep it to just a few. The first comes from the first season when the Enterprise D comes to a planet of Aldea. There, a group of advanced humanoid aliens live in relative peace and prosperity, except that they are sterile and therefore dying off. Hence why they start kidnapping the Enterprise’s children!

Eventually, the Enterprise crew determines that the source of their problem is the great machine that runs their planet, otherwise known as “Custodian”. Because they’ve forgotten how to use the machine, the Aldeans have been unaware of the fact that it’s long since broken down and has been letting harmful radiation in. They assist them in fixing it, and the lesson about letting technology run your life has landed!

The second example comes from the regrettable movie Insurrection, where the Enterprise E comes to an idyllic planet inhabited by the Bak’u. Here, people live in virtually perfect harmony with the planet by denying themselves certain technology, opting instead for the simple life. Their philosophy is simple: “when you create a machine to do the job of  man, you take something away from the man”.

All of this seems inconsistent with the usual message of Star Trek, and even the movie itself. Far from being purely primitive, the Bak’u employ all kinds of labor saving technology, which includes irrigation and dams. So really, are they really so opposed to technology or just specific technologies? Nevertheless, the metaphor is clear. Combined with the fact that this place has youth-preserving powers, the metaphor of this place is pretty obvious. It is the fountain of youth, garden of Eden, and the evil Son’a who are advanced and creepy want to destroy it. Not their best movie!

But the last and best example comes in the form of The Borg. A race of cybernetic beings who have merged the organic and synthetic, run by a hive mind that quashes all individuality, and threatening to assimilate all in their path, the metaphor is so thick you need a knife to cut through it. They are the ruthless march of progress personified!

And just look at them and their ships, are they not the perfect representation of cold, unfeeling technology? Sure they are! And the way people change once they’ve been assimilated, becoming soulless automatons and losing all color and individuality. Tell me that’s not a perfect visual representation of the death of the human spirit under the weight of urbanization and anonymity.

Some might call this inconsistent, but it seemed more likely like Roddenberry and his writers were simply hedging their bets. On the one hand, he was showing how human potential could one day yield the perfect society, or at least one that was free of all the problems we know and lament today. On the other, they must have wanted to show the obvious downside and dangers at worshiping at the altar of progress. After all, if you put an ideal, any ideal, ahead of humanity and life, all you get is dystopia!

And as always, other races in the Star Trek universe serve as a mirror for the human condition, or rather different aspects of it. If the human race has got it right, then others must not have achieved that careful balance of humanity and progress just yet. Whereas some prefer to be Luddites and live in an agrarian Eden, others have become runaway cyborgs who assimilate all in their path. It’s all about balance people!

Well, that was kind of fun! And it combined two of my favorite things in the world. Sci-fi and literary criticism. Perhaps I should do more of these. As always, suggestion on which franchise should be covered would be great. I can think of a few off the top of my head – such as the Star Wars universe, Dune, Aliens, Terminator, and possibly Battletech – but I would like to hear from others too. There’s always those added few that would be perfect but I fail to think of. Thanks all!

The Future is Here: Invisbility Cloaks!

Well, almost here. But according to this news segment from the Associated Press, the technology for an invisibility cloak may not be far off. Scientists working at the University of Berkley are working on a suit that would be capable of bending light around it, and are getting close to some viable results. If made available to the US army and other armed services, this technology would go a long way to making the concept of Future Solider truly futuristic! Soldiers would be able to enter the field of battle virtually invisible and be able to reveal themselves only after they’ve killed the enemy – Predator style!

The video goes on to state that the technology is already in use, as evidenced by some insurgent’s video which was taken inside Iraq. Draw your own conclusions, I have little to say about that other than that it seems clearly fake. Video hoaxes are nothing new and the posters word that he has run it through filters and has not tampered with it are hardly sacrosanct. My main concern is the development of this technology and how it might very well become feasible in the next few years.

Imagine, a whole platoon of digital soldiers who are able to activate cloaking shields and patrol city streets, completely unseen. Does this frighten you, because it scares the shit out of me! In addition to making soldiers that much more lethal, it’s also likely to give whichever army that is in possession of the technology a massive edge over every other country in the world and trigger a whole new level of arms races. As it stands, Russia and China are already pushing to keep up with the US and most Western European nations on the Future Soldier front. The addition of stealth suits is likely to take that to a whole new level…

Man the future is scary sometimes! Is it wrong of me to smell another novel idea when I think of this ;)?

Cool Ships (volume VIII)

Battleship Yamato:
A couple times now I’ve given praise to ship designs that went beyond the usual airplane/ seafaring paradigm. But what can you say about a spaceship which is a carbon copy of a old sea battleship? I don’t know, gutsy maybe? That its paying homage to the original? That’s all I can really say on this one, since it is identical to its namesake from the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Taken from the anime series of the same name, the Yamato was a prototype ship which was built in secret by Earth forces in the ruins of the original. Using alien technology, it was the first Earth ship to boast FTL and a “wave-motion-gun”. These devices were meant to give it an edge in the ongoing war with a race known as the “Gamilons”.

Early in this war, the Gamilons had bombarded Earth with radioactive meteorites. The result was that all human settlements had to be moved underground. However, the radiation was slowly working its way down to the inhabitants, and the only hope for survival came in the form of a message from a distant star. After completion, the Yamato was meant to fly to this world and retrieve the device which apparently could cleanse Earth of its poisonous radiation.

Thus, the Yamato was created to perform a mission that meant the very survival of the human race. It’s drive system was to make sure it could make the trip, while its weapons were meant to ensure it could defend itself.

Cylon Heavy Raider:
Another installment from the BSG universe, here we have the heavy hitter of the Cylon fleet, the dual purpose attack and transport craft, otherwise known as “the turkey”. Capable of atmospheric entry, space flight and FTL travel, the Heavy Raider is capable of attacking, transporting troops and conducting boarding operations.

Unlike the standard Raider, the heavy can either fly itself on autopilot or be piloted by actual an Centurion. However, its automated functions do not appear to be the result of a sentient nervous system. In terms of armaments and capacity, the heavy has six cannons mounted under its cockpit and its bay is capable of holding up to ten Centurions.

The Heavy Raider made its first appearance in season one (“Scattered”) when one crashed into the starboard flight pod. On Caprica, Sharon Valerii (Boomer) commandeers one to provide fire support to the resistance and save Starbuck as she escaped from a Cylon medical facility (“The Farm”). The Heavy Raider would go on to make several more appearances in the series, particularly whenever assault missions or heavy raids were concerned.

Quasar Fire-class Cruiser:
Once more onto the Star Wars universe, my friends! But this time, its into the expanded universe with a ship that is somewhat obscure by most standards. Known as the Quasar Fire-class cruiser, or Alliance Escort Carrier, this ship made its first appearance in the Thrawn Trilogy during the Battle of Bilbringi then again in the novel The Truce At Bakura.

Designed by the Sullustans as a cargo transport, many of these vessels were given to the Alliance and converted for combat. This consisted of stripping down the cargo bays and turning into hangars, and mounting defensive turrets at the front and rear.

Thought lightly armored, armed, and shielded, the Quasar’s small size and versatility make it a ship of choice for small fleets and minor attack forces. It’s six squadrons of fighters also give it an effective defensive screen, making it all the more suitable as a small fleet command ship.

The Leviathan:
Did I say once more, I meant twice… maybe more! And this one goes way back, to roughly 4000 years before events in the original movies. Officially known as an Interdictor-class cruiser, this vessel was the mainstay of the Republican navy during the time of the Mandalarion Wars and was featured heavily in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

During the outbreak of the Sith War which immediately followed, the Leviathan served as Darth Revan’s flagship. After he was captured by the Jedi Order, ownership of this vessel changed to Darth Malak. The ship was responsible for obliterating the surface of Taris and was later the site where Darth Revan, now working for the Jedi Order, confronted Darth Malak for the first time since his defection.

Measuring 600 meters in length, the ship carries an arsenal of 20 quad laser cannons, 4 turbolasers, 2 ion cannons, and four squadrons of fighters. Although somewhat mild by modern Star Wars standards, she was designed to be a forerunner to the modern Star Destroyer design.

Negh’var-class Cruiser:
Despite their brawling, yelling and terrible table manners, you gotta admit; the Klingons make a fine looking ship! And this is especially true of the Negh’var-class warship, the heaviest of the heavies in the Klingon armada, serving as the command ship on many different occasions (and in multiple universes).

Ships of this kind made their first appearance in the series finale of Star Trek: TNG when two attacked the USS Pasteur. Another appeared in DS9 when a changling posing as General Martok led the Klingon fleet against the Cardassian Union, and again against Deep Space 9 when the Federation chose to oppose the invasion. They also went on to play an important role in the Dominion War alongside Federation and Romulan warships.

In addition to the standard cloaking device, the Negh’var carries an impressive array of armaments, including two massive disruptor pods mounted underneath the ship’s wings. It also carries multiple photon torpedo launchers, and several smaller emitters mounted across the ship. She is also capable of standing toe to toe with most other ships in the Alpha Quadrant in terms of velocity, making it up to speeds of Warp 9.

Ornithopter:
Not long ago, I was lamented the fact that I kept forgetting to mention anything from the Dune universe. Now I can’t seem to do a single post without including a Dune ship! This time, its the ornithopter, the curious cool ship that’s perplexed readers and conceptual artists for some time.

The most common vessel in the Imperium, the ornithopter (or ‘thopter for short) was an extremely versatile vessel that served primarily as a cargo vessel and transport. In addition, they often served in a military capacity, being fitted with lasguns, bombs and missiles. This was particulalry the case during Paul Muad’ib’s uprising, when House Atreides ‘thopters were fitted for the assault on Arrakeen and the Imperial Palace.

According to numerous descriptions taken from the expanded Dune universe, the thopter was primarily powered by jet propulsion, but relied on a set of beating wings to maintain altitude and maneuver. The concept has gone through several renditions over the years, due to the many attempts to adapt Dune to the screen. In David Lynch’s 1984 movie adaptation, ‘thopters appeared as small, box-like crat with swept wings that retracted and deployed from the fuselage.

In the 2000 miniseries, they were pictured as vertical take off and landing craft with fans mounted in pivoting wings. The featured picture (shown above left) is taken from The Road to Dune and is an artists concept of what a ‘thopter would look like. Here, we see beating wings which deploy for takeoff and retract upon landing.

USNC In Amber Clad:
Feels like its been awhile since I included anything from the Halo universe. And so here’s the Reunion, a Vladivostok-class guided missile frigate. Though somewhat old and outclassed by modern Covenant standards, several frigates played a crucial role in the Great War against Covenant forces. One such vessel was the In Amber Clad.

Armed with 12 Point Defense Guns, 40 missile pods, 5 twin rail gun turrets, a magnetic accelerator cannon, a compliment of Shiva nuclear missiles and a full compliment of Marines, dropships and escort fighters, the In Amber Clad was considered the mainstay of the old Earth fleet. Capable of atmospheric entry and landing, this ship did not need to rely on drop pods or shuttles, and could land an entire Marine force by itself.

During the Covenant War, these frigates were replaced by the larger and more heavily armed Halcyon-class cruisers. However, the In Amber Clad managed to score a significant victory over the Covenant during the Battle of Installation 05. During the course of the battle, it served as the flagship and won the day when it crashed into the Covenant ship High Charity.

VF-1 Veritech:
As requested, I’ve finally found an example from the Robotech universe! And to be honest, I wondered how long it would take. Though I’m not too familiar with this franchise, the RPG is something I remember fondly from my childhood, and some of the designs still percolate in my consciousness.

One of which is this, the VF-1 Vertiech, also known as the “Valkyrie”. This battleoid, which was adapted from alien technology (known as Protoculture),was originally designed for hand-to-hand combat with aliens which were up to 15 meters in height, the Veritech and subsequent breeds of mechas became the new face of warfare.

Mechas can function in both the fighter and mech role. Capable of flying through space, atmospheres and fighting on land, the Veritech was one of the most versatile and maneuverable mechas in the known universe. With a flight speed of Mach 3 (in atmosphere), and a top speed of 100 km/h running, she is as fast as any land vehicle or aerospace vessel. In addition, the standard Veritech carries two high-powered lasers, head mounted laser cannons, guided missiles, a rotary cannon, and is even capable of engaging in hand to hand combat.

YT-2400 Corellian Freighter:
To finish, I’m in the mood for something Corellian! And so it’s back to the Star Wars universe for this one. Much like its predecessor, the YT-1300 (a.k.a. the Millennium Falcon), the 2400 was a class of light freighter that was fast, tough and endlessly modifiable. So like the Falcon, it was a favorite amongst smugglers, merchants and privateers.

Smaller and lighter than the 1300 series, the 2400 boasted only one servo-turret for defense in addition to its shield array and armor plating. However, this could easily be remedied with the addition of extra guns and missile launchers. And its ample hull space and engine power, the 2400’s could easily accommodate additional mounts and the added weight.

One such ship which acheived notoriety during the Galactic Civil War was the Outrider, the ship of famed smuggler Dash Rendar. This ship, like most other 2400’s, was heavily modified to accommodate additional systems and weapons. Clearly, when the Corellian shipyard designated this vessel as freight transport, it was a nod and a wink!

Thank you all and good hunting! See you in next time in volume 9!

Cool Ships (volume VI)

Back yet again with a sixth installment in the Cool Ships series. Like last time, I took this opportunity to tackle some overlooked examples, and some new ones as well. In addition… You know what? Screw the introductions and final thoughts, let’s just get into this!

Bird of Prey:
There’s nothing like a classic, and when it comes to the Star Trek franchise, few ships are more classic than the Klingon Bird of Prey. The perfect balance of form, speed, versatility, and firepower, the Bird of Prey is a ship with a very long history of service in the Klingon Empire.

This ship made its first appearance in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock when a renegade Klingon captain, seeking the secrets of the Genesis Planet, used one to attack the Enterprise. Kirk and his crew would later commandeer this ship and use it in the following movie to travel back in time and bring two whales to the future (The Voyage Home).

Bird of Preys would also appear in the fifth and six movie installments, in the latter case as a prototype raider that could fire while cloaked (something previously unheard of). Remaining in service well into the 24th century, Bird of Preys appeared repeatedly in Stark Trek TNG, and DS9,  most notably as part of the Klingon war effort against the Dominion.

Boasting two multi-directional disruptors and single photon torpedo launcher located in the nose. It is also one of the first Klingon vessels to boast a cloaking device, something unavailable on heavier cruisers. Because of their stealthy abilities and versatility, they have played a variety of roles, including reconnaissance, escort, raids and as support for larger vessels.

Cylon Raider:
Boy, they’ve come along way baby! During the original series, Cylon raiders were saucer-shaped, had energy weapons and were crewed by up to three Centurions. In the re-imagined series, this changed significantly, though the Raider still retained its basic roll as a light assault craft.

In addition to getting a facelift, the newer generation of raiders relied on kinetic weapons, missiles and even tactical nukes. Its crew was replaced by an organic brain which was merged with the ship’s machinery, and which relied on an “eye” located in the fore of the central module to communicate and conduct navigation. Much like Raptors, Raiders are capable of making short-range FTL jumps, and therefore do not need to be deployed from a Basestar in the field.

Much of what is known about the modern raider came from Starbuck’s own experiences with a downed vessel. After making her way into the interior, she discovered a system of organs which were apparently fed by an internal supply of nitrogen and oxygen. After removing the brain, she was able to fly the ship using the system of organic levers and controls and rendezvous with the Galactica. Starbuck was meant to use this same vessel as a Trojan horse, but instead used it to fly back to Caprica (“You Can’t Go Home Again”)

Though self-aware, the average Cylon ship is not as intelligent or independent as a humanoid Cylon. However, like the humanoids, they are capable of resurrection and have their consciousness and memories recycled into a new body whenever they are shot down. In time, their accumulated knowledge and experience can make them even more formidable as opponents, as was demonstrated by the vessel known as “Scar” in the season two episode of the same name.

The Ebon Hawk:
Looking beyond the original movies, there are plenty of cool ships to be found in the expanded Star Wars universe. One example is the Ebon Hawk, a Corellian freighter which comes from the Knights Of The Old Republic game.

Much like its modern cousin, the Millennium Falcon, the Ebon Hawk is every smugglers wet dream. The perfect marriage of speed, maneuverability, and survivability, it is perfect for running blockades, evading capture, and saving the galaxy! It also played a central role in the Sith War and the events immediately following it.

Originally belonging to Davik, a ruthless criminal warlord belonging to the Exchange, the ship became the property of the Jedi Order after it was confiscated by Revan. Using this vessel to escape the Sith blockade of Taris, Revan and his comrades used this vessel to travel the Galaxy, investigating the Sith’s plans for domination and systematically unraveling them.

After the end of the Sith War, Revan took this ship to the Rim to further invesigate the true source of the Sith threat. The ship returned to the universe a few years later, carrying an former Jedi master named Kreia who had since become a Sith master, and was exiled by her peers. Once again, the ship would become the property of a Jedi warrior – Meetra Surik – and several fellow-travellers who would used it to retrace the path of Revan and eliminate the Sith Triumvirate, the last of the Sith Lords.

The Event Horizon:
A bit of a break for the usual lineup of cool ships here, the Event Horizon was a  prototype vessel that was featured in the movie of the same name. Built in the near future by Earth scientists to be the first that would be capable of making FTL jumps. In the course of making the jump from the edge of the Solar System to Proxima Centauri, the ship disappeared. Seven years, it rematerialized, sending out a general distress signal.

Upon investigating the derelict, the crew of the rescue ship Lewis and Clarke found a ship of horrors. In addition to having a long spine that was inlaid with jagged metal spikes, the experimental gravity drive looked like some kind of medieval torture device. Seriously, the thing was basically a studded metal ball with spiky rotating appendages.

Oh, and did I mention the ship was haunted? Yeah, apparently generating a quantum singularity and passing through it leads directly to Hell. So in essence, the ship brought a whole lot of Hell back with it when it came back to our universe, and these dark forces began making the rescue teams go made just as it had the original crew. Kinda stupid really…

But ultimately, the design and concept of the ship were pretty cool. And even if you forget about the obviously macabre nature of the engine room, it was pretty neat to behold.

Mothership (Homeworld):
The flagship of the Kushan fleet, the Mothership was the centerpiece of every mission in the Homeworld universe. Originally intended as a colony vessel, its role expanded during the Homeworld War to include that of a command ship and mobile shipyard. This was due to the many hostile races encountered after the Kushan fleet left Kharak to find Earth.

Although not an effective combat platform, the Mothership’s hyperdrive make it FTL capable and therefore capable of deep-space travel. In addition to its internal factories, it also has the capacity to hold 600,000 cryogenically frozen colonists as well as its regular crew of 50,000.

Although not heavily armed, the Mothership contained the means to construct many different classes of support vessels. These included scouts, resource harvesters, fighter craft, destroyers and even cruisers. As such, it had a solid defense screen during the time of the Exodus. Periodically stopping to replenish its resources from asteroid belts, the Mothership was also able to replenish its losses.

USNC Pillar of Autumn:
And here we have another franchise making its first appearance in this series! Coming from the Halo universe, the Pillar of Autumn was featured in the original Halo. A Halcyon-class light cruiser, this class of ship is one of the older ships in service with the UNSC Navy.

During the Covenant assault on Reach, the Autumn fled to the Soell system where it discovered and then crash landed on the Halo ring known as Installation 04. There, after engaging both Covenant and Flood forces, Master Chief John 117 detonating it in order to destroy the installation before it could fire.

Measuring 1.17 km in length and armed with a combination of kinetic guns, nuclear missiles and a magnetic accelerator cannon, the Autumn is powered by a fusion core and able to make FTL (aka. slipspace) jumps through space. In addition, it also carries a squadron of fighters, 15 Pelican dropships, 8 Scorpion tanks, 40 Warthogs, and a full compliment of Marines and Orbital Drop Shock Troops. The ship is run by a central AI – in the case of the Autumn, Cortana – and has a crew of between 300 and 400 personnel.

The Scimitar:
Though I didn’t care much for the movie that featured it, The Scimitar was still a pretty freaking cool ship! Huge, powerful, scary-looking and packing a doomsday device and a truly impenetrable cloak, this baby pretty much had it all. So it begs the question… how the hell did a bunch of slaves built this thing anyway?

Of Reman origin, this dreadnought was built under the supervision of the Picard clone Shinzon and figured prominently in his designs to take over the Romulan Empire and destroy the Federation. This he planned to do by attacking Earth, a plot which was narrowly averted by the crew of USS Enterprise E.

Built for total war, the Scimitar was given every technological advantage the Romulan Empire had at its disposal. This included 52 disruptor banks, 27 torpedo launchers, several squadrons of Scorpion attack fighters, and of course, its thalaron radiation weapon of mass destruction. Requiring several minutes to power up, this weapon was capable of sterilizing an entire planet. Deployment of the weapon involved unfolding its wings, a move which only made it look scarier!

The Scimitar was also protected by two shield arrays, which combined with its weaponry gave it the edge in every combat situation. And as already noted, its cloak was perfect, emitting no tachyons or anti-protons as other cloaking devices were notorious for. As a result, the Scimitar was truly impossible to track while under cloak.

Slave I:
Anyone familiar with the Star Wars universe knows who Boba Fett is. And chances are, all of those people are familiar with his ship, the Slave I. A modified Firespray-31-class attack and patrol craft, the Slave I was originally the property of famed bounty hunter Jango Fett. After his death at the hands of Mace Windu, it passed to his son, Boba Fett.

Small, sleek and stealthy, the ship was also augmented with several advanced weapons systems. These included two rapid fire blaster cannons, two missile launchers, and a rear-mounted minelayer compartment which was capable of deploying seismic charges. The ship also carried a compliment of dummy torpedoes which could tag ships with tracking beacons.

During the events of Empire, Fett used this ship to track Han and the Falcon back to Bespin and then take his carbonite-frozen body back to Jabba’s Palace. After escaping from the Rancour Pit on Tatooine, Fett upgraded to a new ship, which he named Slave II in honor of his father’s ship.

Reaver Ship:
As a fitting final entry, I am returning to the Firefly universe once more. And this time, it’s the Reaver ship that I’ve decided to cover. Though every Reaver ship is of unique design, the one which was featured in the pilot episode (featured at right) is my personal favorite.

Like all Reaver ships, this vessel is adorned with red paint and what I can only assume is the blood of innocent victims. It’s hull and engine compartments have also been modified to look claw-like and threatening, it’s front section has been mangled from ramming into other ships, and its engine functions without radiation containment.

Above all, its weapons have been modified to incorporate the unique Reaver combination of medieval weaponry and snares. These can consist of EMP’s, grappling lines, nets, and launchers that fire shurikens, buzz saw blades, spears and some kinetic weapons. Ultimately, the purpose of Reaver weapons are to disable and capture enemy ships rather than destroy them. This gives the Reaver crews the pleasure of meeting their victims face to face and killing them with sharpened implements.

Yes, much like the Reavers themselves, their ships are scary and look like they got a facelift from a belt sander. But such appearances, as well as their lack of containment, let merchant ships and smugglers know they are coming. When that happens, crews can either power down and hope they’ll go unnoticed or run like all hell. Otherwise, they’re only option is to make peace with whatever deity they pray to and eat a bullet, cuz’ the alternative aint pretty!

Thank you all, this has been volume six! Stay tuned for volume seven, coming soon!