6 Insights Into The Science And Technology Of The Mandalorian

Read what the experts think about the science and science fiction behind the new, original Disney+ Star Wars based TV series.
  • The new Disney+ original TV series called The Mandalorian, follows the trials of a lone warrior after the collapse of the Empire in the “Star Wars” original trilogy. The series is set after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order. The Mandalorian, nicknamed Mando, is one of the few noble warriors that still exist from the planet Mandalor. He has become a bounty hunter in order to survive. But Mando begins to question his career when he must capture and turn over to the remnants of the Empire a child of Yoda’s species - that TV viewers have affectionately named “Baby Yoda.” This conflict adds to the tension and dramatic interest of the show.

    As the first live action series in the Star Wars franchise, The Mandalorian introduces lots of new technology - some within the grasp of modern science but some that is definitely science fiction, at least for now.

    To gain a better understanding of the science and technology behind The Mandalorian, Design News reached out to two experts in the Star Wars tech realm: Patrick Johnson, author of “The Physics of Star Wars,” and Mark Brake, author of “The Science of Star Wars.” What follows are portions of those interviews. 

  • Design News: What new science and technology do you see in The Mandalorian?

    Patrick Johnson: Some of the tech we see in The Mandalorian is new and some has been referenced, but not yet shown in the films. For instance, there is the tracking device used to find The Child (Baby Yoda). It seems to be some kind of cross between a GPS and a life detection device. It is unclear how precisely it works, but it flashes and beeps as Mando (or other bounty hunters) approach The Child. This could work in a number of ways. It could be tapping into the strong Force powers of The Child. Force sensitive people can detect disturbances in the Force; it is not unreasonable that a device could be created to detect creatures able to wield the Force as The Child does. There could also just be some kind of tracking beacon placed on The Child.

    Also depicted is a vibro-knife. These have appeared in books and video games before, but I don't know of them showing up in the films or TV shows. This device isn't anything super fancy, but they are knives which have an internal generator which causes the knife to vibrate. The vibrating blade does significantly more damage.

  • Design News: An eyepiece – similar to Google Glasses - attached to the Mandalorian’s helmet allows him to see through walls. What do you think of this technology?

    Patrick Johnson: The seeing through walls bit didn't seem that mysterious to me. As long as the wall absorbs visible light and doesn't absorb infrared, that would be perfectly possible. The way it was depicted certainly looked like a thermal image (which are mostly done using IR). I don't know the material that the hut was made out of, but there are materials that block visible light, but don't block IR light.

  • Design News: Kuiil, a Ugnaught on the planet where Baby Yoda was last seen, is a vapor farmer who helps Mando find the child. Later in the series, Kuiil finds a killer, bounty hunter robot that he programs to raise and protest Baby Yoda. Any insights into who a killer robot could be reprogrammed with emotional artificial intelligence (AI)?

    Patrick Johnson: Programming AIs are very tricky because they follow instructions very literally. This leads to conflict and humor in many pieces of culture. Intelligent creatures are able to make inferences to understand the meaning behind a sentence. AIs (currently) cannot. For instance, say you want to program an AI accomplish a goal. It has to be quantifiable and use a utility function to measure how good of a job it's doing. But unless you give it a complete hierarchy of tasks to do, it may ignore something else you care about in the goals of it minimizing its utility function. For instance, perhaps the best way to prevent humans from hurting each other is to eliminate all of the humans. If it minimizes it's utility function in an undesired way, you want to have a big red button which will turn it off. The problem with this, is that an AI will try to prevent you from hitting the button because it's task is to protect the baby and it cannot do that if you shut it off. To get around this, you can just program the button to not shut it off, but instead minimize that utility function. But then the AI will just press the button and not do any baby protection. That's kinda wild and roundabout, but we don't have a good answer right now for how to stop AI in a useful way.

  • Design News: There are enormous lifeforms that exist on the Ugnaught’s rather barren desert planet. How could such large animals be sustained on a planet with such seemingly limited resources?

    Patrick Johnson: Let’s consider just a single animal, the Mud Horn (the rhino-like beast). It's my understanding that it's based off of an actual pre-historic Earth animal called the Elasmotherium. It is thought that creatures like dinosaurs grew larger than creatures we see today because of a more oxygen-rich atmosphere. Perhaps on Arvala-7, the atmosphere has a higher mix of oxygen. It'd also require a lot of food. The Elasmotherium was an herbivore (like a rhino), so there didn't seem to be a lot of plant life shown, so perhaps this was a carnivorous creature. There easily could be a food chain where the sparse plants could feed small creatures which would in turn feed the medium creatures which would then feed the largest creatures. There are apparently plenty of Jawas around for the Mud Horn to consume as they try to obtain the eggs. 

    Mark Brake: According to Star Wars legend, another enormous lifeform, the exogorth, reached its size by swallowing spaceships whole. That’s why they lurked about in asteroid fields. They also burrowed into an asteroid and fed off stellar energy emissions, mineral-rich deposits within the asteroid, and floating space debris. This seems an unlikely scenario!

    But with regard to the huge lifeforms on Ugnaught’s desert planet, perhaps a better clue can be gotten from that other famous of desert planets: Arrakis, in Frank Herbert’s celebrated 1965 classic sci-fi novel, Dune. The huge sandworms of Arrakis are like our Terran whales. They too have their own enclosed ecosystem, in which they thrive. The sandworms effectively swim through the sands of Arrakis, swallowing huge pockets of spice, getting their sustenance from the plankton that live within it. The worm then excretes a more refined version of the spice, which the plankton then feed upon, allowing the lifecycle and spreading the spice over the desert planet. One imagines the ecosystem of Ugnaught may function in a similar fashion.

  • Design News: How about the ever awesome Mandalorian jetpack? How is it different from The Rocketeer’s or even real-world versions from Darpa or Arizonian State University?

    Patrick Johnson: The jetpack (in design) is not that far off of what we have today. Roughly speaking, it has rockets which provide downward thrust. The rockets can be pointed in different directions to create lateral motion. The biggest issue with this from a practical standpoint is that if you want to move backwards, the rockets need to spew their exhaust onto your feet and legs. This could be very dangerous and potentially lead to severe burns or loss of limbs. The main difference between the Mandalorian jetpack and real jetpacks (at least that I know of), is the rocket on the top of the Mandalorian's jetpack. In principle, this would be able to launch safely with a good design, but the noise would be deafening without exceptionally strong ear protection.

  • Design News: Let’s discuss the material that makes up Mando’s amazing armor.

    Patrick Johnson: Mandalorian armor is made of beskar steel. The issue with any metal like this is that there's a tradeoff between the protection it can provide and its ability to be shaped into whatever design you want. Purportedly, the armor can resist blasters and lightsabers making its melting temperature above plasma temperatures. This means that in the forge where the Mandalorian armorer creates the armor, those flames need to be WAY hot. And if armorer got her hand too close to one, not only would her own armor melt (and might be a bit drippy just being that close), it would vaporize her hand inside the armor pretty quickly. Also, typically the material that the mold used to form metal into shapes has to be able to withstand higher temperatures than the metal being formed. So there's always the issue of (1) how you form those molds and (2) why you don't use that material in your armor instead if it can sustain higher temperatures.

 

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

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