Star Wars: The Force Awakens Supercut!

Star_Wars_tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-959818851016For those who can’t wait until December to see this movie, this trailer is essentially a big, fat tease! But for those who thought the past few trailers were simply not enough (I think I fit into that second category) the four-and-a-half minute supercut is pure awesomeness! And Star Wars will definitely notice that this trailer provides some serious hints about the plot.

The previous trailers established that a resurgent Empire is out and about, sporting a new commander and a new Sith Lord who venerates Darth Vader and promises to complete the work he started. Enter into this two force-sensitive people – Finn (a former Stormtrooper) and Rey (a desert scavenger) – who meet up and are rescued by Han and Chewie aboard the Falcon.

And the rest, clearly, is sheer awesomeness! Take a look…

 

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Trailer!

star-wars-episode-vii-force-awakensIt finally happened, Lucasarts and J.J. Abrams have released the very first trailer for the upcoming Star Wars sequel. For months, tidbits of news has been trickling out of the studio – casting info, tentative info on the plot, official posters; and of course, the name. But otherwise, everyone involved in the movie’s production has been pretty tight-lipped about it.

Word is, the studio even ordered a “drone shield” to protect their sets from anyone trying to obtain aerial footage of the production. Pretty neat huh? In any case, the trailer is pretty good at giving us drops that will only make us thirsty for more!

Star-WarsVIIThese include the familiar locale of Tatooine, actor John Boyega in the role of a Stormtrooper, a Sith with a newfangled lightsaber (above), actress Daisy Ridley riding a bulky speeder on Tatooine, actor Oscar Isaac flying a squad of X-wings across open water, Stormtroopers preparing for an assault, and the good ol’ Millennium Falcon dog fighting with TIE fighters above Tatooine’s surface.

All the while, we hear a baritone voice asking us if we can feel it, and by “it”, he means the Force! I tell you, this puts me in mind of the days when trailers for Star Wars Episode I were first coming out. I remember how us Wars geeks were all atwitter and couldn’t wait to see it. Perhaps it’s because I’m older now, or that the prequels have left me a bit jaded and cynical, but I do wish I could recapture that feeling.

star-wars-episode-vii-force-awakens(1)Basically, I think that like many childhood fans, I’m hoping that these sequels will be what the prequels should have been – an exciting and awesome return to the Star Wars universe we all knew and loved. Before the dark times… before Jar-Jar and midechlorians!

For f*** sakes, MIDECHLORIANS!

Check out the trailer below:

News From Space: Astronaut Robots

spheres_1As if it weren’t bad enough that they are replacing workers here on Earth, now they are being designed to replace us in space! At least, that’s the general idea behind Google and NASA’s collaborative effort to make SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites). As the name suggests, these robots are spherical, floating machines that use small CO2 thrusters to move about and performing chores usually done by astronauts.

Earlier this month, NASA announced it’s plan to launch some SPHERES aboard an unmanned Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station to begin testing. That launch took place on July 11th, and the testing has since begun. Powered by Tango, Google’s prototype smartphone that comes with 3D sensors that map the environment around them, the three satellites were used to perform routine tasks.

nasa-antares-launch-photoNASA has sent SPHERES to the ISS before, but all they could really do was move around using their small CO2 thruster. With the addition of a Tango “brain” though, the hope is that the robots will actually be able to assist astronauts on some tasks, or even completely carry out some mundane chores. In addition, the mission is to prepare the robots for long-term use and harmonized them to the ISS’ environment.

This will consist of the ISS astronauts testing SPHERES ability to fly around and dock themselves to recharge (since their batteries only last 90 minutes), and use the Tango phones to map the Space Station three-dimensionally. This data will be fed into the robots so they have a baseline for their flight patterns. The smartphones will be attached to the robots for future imaging tasks, and they will help with mathematical calculations and transmitting a Wi-Fi signal.

spheres_0In true science fiction fashion, the SPHERES project began in 2000 after MIT professor David W. Miller was inspired by the “Star Wars” scene where Luke Skywalker is being trained in handling a lightsaber by a small flying robot. Miller asked his students to create a similar robot for the aerospace Industry. Their creations were then sent to the ISS in 2006, where they have been ever since.

As these early SPHERES aren’t equipped with tools, they will mostly just fly around the ISS, testing out their software. The eventual goal is to have a fleet of these robots flying around in formation, fixing things, docking with and moving things about, and autonomously looking for misplaced items. If SPHERES can also perform EVAs (extra-vehicular activity, space walks), then the risk of being an astronaut would be significantly reduced.

spheresIn recent years there has been a marked shift towards the use of off-the-shelf hardware in space (and military) applications. This is partly due to tighter budgets, and partly because modern technology has become pretty damn sophisticated. As Chris Provencher, SPHERES project manager, said in an interview with Reuters:

We wanted to add communication, a camera, increase the processing capability, accelerometers and other sensors [to the SPHERES]. As we were scratching our heads thinking about what to do, we realized the answer was in our hands. Let’s just use smartphones.

The SPHERES system is currently planned to be in use on the ISS until at least 2017. Combined with NASA’s Robonaut, there are some fears that this is the beginning of a trend where astronauts are replaced entirely by robots. But considering how long it would take to visit a nearby star, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. At least until all of the necessary terraforming have been carried out in advance of the settlers.

So perhaps robots will only be used to do the heavy lifting, or the work that is too dull, dangerous or dirty for regular astronauts – just like drones. Hopefully, they won’t be militarized though. We all saw how that went! And be sure to check out this video of SPHERES being upgraded with Project Tango, courtesy of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP):


Sources:
nasa.gov, extremetech.com, techtimes.com

The Future, Coming Soon!: Aeroflex Hoverbike by 2017

aerofex-hover-bike-prototypeThe Aerofex’s hoverbike made a pretty big splash when the Californian company showed off its working prototype back in 2012. But since that time, tech enthusiasts and futurists (not to mention fans of Stars Wars and sci-fi in general) heard nary a peep from the company for almost two years. Luckily, Aerofex has finally broken its silence and announced a launch date and a price for its hovering vehicle. According to its website, it will be ready to ship by 2017, and cost a robust $85,000 a vehicle.

In its current form, the Aero-X is capable of carrying a load of up to 140kg (310 pounds), has seating for two, and can run for 1 hour 15 minutes on a full tank of petrol. Its two wheels are ducted rotors with carbon fibre blades, which operate in a similar manner to the open rotor of a helicopter with tighter control. And in addition to land, it can also fly over water. So while it is not a practical replacement for everyday vehicles, it can certainly occupy the same area profile as a small car.

aeroflex_topAnd – do I even need to say it? – it’s a freaking hoverbike! In the last two years, the company has been working on improving the vehicle’s stability and coupling – a phenomenon whereby rotor vehicles may pitch in the direction of the rotors’ spin. It has filed several patents for its solutions and looked towards quadcopters to solve the problem of wind, using gyroscopes and accelerometers communicating with an on-board computer to compensate for windy conditions.

User-friendliness has also figured very heavily into the design, with handlebar controls for intuitive steering and safety features that keep the driver from flying too high or too fast. Both of these features would drain its fuel more quickly, but they ensure a greater degree of user-safety. This also helps it comply with the US Federal Aviation Administration’s guidelines, which require a pilot’s license for anyone operating a vehicle above an altitude of 3.7 metres (12.1 feet).

aeroflex_sideSo if you have that $85,000 kicking around (and a pilots license), you can reserve yours now for a refundable deposit of $5,000. A product statement and some basic specs have also been made available on the website. According to the commercial description:

Where you’re going, there are no roads. That’s why you need the Aero-X, a vehicle that makes low-altitude flight realistic and affordable. Flying up to 3 metres (10 feet) off the ground at 45mph (72kph), the Aero-X is unlike any vehicle you’ve seen. It’s a hovercraft that rides like a motorcycle — an off road vehicle that gets you off the ground.

I can certainly see the potential for this technology, and I imagine DARPA or some other military contractor is going to be knocking on Aeroflex’s door real soon, looking for a militarized version that they can send into dirty and dangerous areas, either to pick up wounded, transport gear, or diffuse landmines. We’re talking hoverbikes, people. Only a matter of time before the armed forces decide they want these latest toys!

Click here to go to the company website and get the full run down on the bike. And be sure to check out these videos from the company website, where we see the Aeroflex going through field tests:

 


Sources: cnet.com, cbc.ca, aerofex.com

Cast of Star Wars VII Announced!

star-wars-episode-7Happy (early) May the Fourth everyone! This year, I thought I’d get on this fandom anniversary early by passing on some franchise news that was just released from Lucasfilm and Disney regarding the upcoming relaunch of the Star Wars franchise. After months of speculation, the cast for the upcoming Star Wars movie has finally been announced! The news came this past week in a post on StarWars.com, where  companies spelt it out for all the fans who have been eagerly awaiting the news.

In addition to Mark Hamil, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher – who will receive top billing as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia – Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker will also be reprising their roles as Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2. Also, the movie will star several notable actors in new roles, including acting great Max von Sydow (The Tudors, Minority Report, Snow Falling on Cedars, Judge Dredd, Needful Things).

starwarsAlso, Adam Driver (Girls, Lincoln), Oscar Isaac (Robin Hood, Sucker Punch, Drive), Andy Serkis (who brought Gollum to life in LOTR and the Hobbit franchises), Domhnall Gleeson (who played Bill Weasely in the Harry Potter series), and British television stars John Boyega and Daisy Ridley were announced, though has is not yet been announced what characters they will be playing. But since the upcoming movie will be taking place 30 years after Return of the Jedi, it’s fair to assume that the focus will be on these characters rather than on the original cast.

In a photo release this past Tuesday (seen below), director JJ Abrams is seen having a roundtable discussion with the cast at Pinewood Studios in the UK. Note the body of R2-D2 which sits unboxed behind them, having no doubt just been brought out of storage. JJ Abrams, identified by his spiky hair and glasses, can be seen sitting to the left of R2, with Harrison Ford to his right, Carrie Fisher two seats down, and Mark Hamil seated opposite to the far left of the photo.

star-wars-episode-7-cast-announceWhen news of the cast was released, Abrams was quoted as saying:

We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud.

This, the seventh film in the Star Wars franchise, and is slated for a December 18th, 2015, release. In addition to Abrams directing, he is also collaborating on the screenplay with Lawrence Kasdan, the man who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk are producing, and John Williams returns as the composer.

star-wars-prequelsI think I speak for fans and geeks everywhere when I wish them all luck! Lord knows we could all use a really decent Star Wars sequel, especially when so many of us felt so utterly let down by the prequels! However, I think it is fair to say that Abrams and the rest should not be too concerned about what the fans and expect. If this latest installment is to be a success, it must not be overly aware of itself or its legacy. Such was part of what brought the prequels down in my estimation, and like everyone else, I just want to enjoy what comes next!

Good day and May the Fourth be with you all!

Source: starwars.com

New Video: Happy (We Are From Tatooine)

Star-Wars-Luke-Skywalker-TatooineBehold, the latest bit of Star Wars-related spoofery! Inspired by the Pharrell Williams song “Happy”, this little mash up was produced by the STAR WARS TUNISIA fan club. The aim of this group is to gather and inform Tunisian Star Wars fans, and communicate with others all over the world. And in this case, that involved getting into Star Wars costume and doing a scene for scene reenactment of the original music video.

And they did it all in the actual location used to simulate the Tatooine moisture farm where Luke grew up. Enjoy!