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Are Lightsabers Possible?

I have been asked on more than one occasion by young innovators to help them make a lightsaber. Truth be told there was a time that I also wanted to make a lightsaber so I’m always up for it. If you perform a Google search for “lightsaber” you are going to get back a lot of results, most of which are to make something that looks like a lightsaber. That’s all well and good, but I thought it was about time I dug in a little deeper to find out if it’s possible to make an actual device. All danger aside, it would be pretty cool.

Thankfully Physics.org looked into it and well, I’ll let you read for yourself to see why we are a little ways away from being a Jedi or part of the dark side. Don’t give up hope, we were once told we couldn’t fly.

Lightsabers are a genius idea: portable, lightweight, activated with the flick of a switch and oozing cool (at least if you’re a Star Wars fan). To create the saber’s shining blade of light, laser technology seems the obvious choice. Laser produces a highly directional light beam which can be used for everything from etching metal surfaces to eye surgery, so why not battling the dark side? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it looks.

Problem #1: Creating a short blade

Probably the most fundamental issue is that a lightsaber’s blade needs to stop short after a couple of feet. But a laser beam, just like any kind of light, never just ‘stops’, unless something in its way absorbs or reflects the energy.

A laser-powered lightsaber would therefore be extremely unwieldy, not to mention constituting a real health and safety nightmare. Allow the slightest lapse of attention during a battle and you could accidentally decapitate your best friend or slice off your own toes.

One solution would be to cap the end of blade with a mirror to confine the beam, but this would mean that you couldn’t stab anyone. Plus, building a structure to hold the cap in place would take all the elegance and grace out of a lightsaber.

Problem #2: Size

Producing a high-powered laser beam requires a lot of kit. Although some pretty amazing advances in technology have seen high power lasers shrink in size, you’d also need some kind of cooling system to prevent the system from overheating. This fundamental requirement means you’d be hard pressed to build a light saber that you could physically carry on your back, let alone pull off any fancy sword tricks with.

Problem #3: Powering the blade

This brings us on to the question of power. Lasers strong enough to do any proper damage need serious amounts of energy, so your light saber couldn’t run on standard batteries. You’d probably have to plug yourself into the mains – which might not go down so well on an enemy ship (even if the ship’s owner was actually your dad).

Problem #4: More combat issues

Since as we’ve seen, a laser beam is easily reflected, it would be easy for your opponent to shield themselves with a mirror, or even turn your lightsaber’s blade back against you: possibly a bit embarrassing.

What’s more, clashing lightsaber blades would be impossible – the beams would just pass straight through each other and make for a very boring duel.

Problem #5:  Visual and audio effects

Half the reason lightsabers are cool derives from their colourful glow and swooshy noises. Unfortunately, a laser beam can’t be seen from the side (unless the air is particularly smoky or dusty – that’s why lasers are always used in conjunction with smoke machines in clubs or concert venues). Just like an oversized laser pointer, a light saber would be basically invisible. Unless of course it was directed straight into your eye, in which case it would probably be the last thing you ever saw.

And in the same way that waving a torch around doesn’t make any noise, you’ve guessed it, swinging your lightsaber would be silent. And let’s face it, even Luke Skywalker would look pretty pathetic wielding an invisible and silent sword.

In conclusion, lightsabers as depicted in Star Wars will never be a reality. Although advances in technology could perhaps one day solve the power and size issues, the basic problem of blade length really puts a downer on things. Unless in the next 50 years physicists come up with something even better than lasers.

Hack Your Notebook: Circuitry mixes with paper in a creative project for 21st century learners

Paper circuits have been one of the most popular activities that we have shared on KitHub and our most popular kit to date. When you think of interaction, you typically think of interacting with your electronic device -- iPad, phone etc. But what if you made your analog notebook come to life? Some people including USC Professor Henry Jenkins, might call this a form of transmedia learning. The interaction between the real world and the digital world is becoming more and more fine tuned with the Internet of Things. We already have smart paper that allows you to write on paper with a pen and it automatically digitizes it.

Excerpt from School Library Journal:

Paper circuitry lives at the intersection of technical expertise and creative expression. It leverages newly developed artifacts, such as LED light stickers, along with commonly found materials such as watch batteries and conductive copper tape. Instead of making electric circuits the way I learned to—with ceramic bulb holders, clunky nine-volt batteries, and plastic-coated wires—you create them with sleek materials that stick to paper.

These notebooks become pages with illuminated circuits overlaid by drawings, narratives, or designs—or any combination of the three. Collectively, they leverage light and give new dimensionality to creative aspirations.

No longer are you making a circuit simply to make a circuit. You’re doing it to convey a message, to realize a self-directed purpose. To hack your notebook.

The epitome of the hacked notebook may be a creation by Natalie Freed, an educator at a San Francisco high school and MIT Media Lab graduate. Freed programmed lights in her ocean-themed sketchbook that match live tidal data she pulls from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Her notebook also includes watercolors of driftwood and seashells, a poem, and tiny blue LEDs illuminating a shore. It’s a gorgeous testament to the power of creativity unleashed by curiosity and creative tools.

Happy Arduino Day!

If you enjoy making things with electronics then you have probably heard of Arduino, an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for anyone making interactive projects. There’s two parts – the Arduino board (hardware) and the Arduino software that you use to program the Arduino board.

If you have heard of Arduino but never tried it because it sounds too difficult, well, today on Arduino Day, we’d like to change your mind.

Perhaps your kid has told you that she would like to make a robot with some smarts then Arduino is going to help make that dream come true.

Or maybe you are really interested in Internet of Things and designing a “smart home” well Arduino can help with that as it senses the environment by receiving inputs from many sensors, and affects its surroundings by controlling lights, motors, and other actuators

Here’s a TED Global talk by Arduino co-founder Massimo Banzi.

To get a deeper feel for it, here’s a getting started video by Massimo. He explains the components and how Arduino can be used to light up an LED.

To provide you with even more incentive, we have discounted some of the Arduino-based products in the KitHub Shop for today only.

Sylvia’s Super Awesome Kit

This kit and the project book were specifically designed at getting kids interested and involved in the world of Arduino at an early age. The kit includes all the parts needed to complete the following experiments in the book:

  • Project One – Simple Strobe – A controllable strobe that lets you stop time
  • Project Two – R.I.F.F. – A “Randomly Influenced Finger Flute”
  • Project Three – TheTapper – A speaker can play music of course, but it can be an input device too

$26.95 $29.95

SparkFun Inventor’s Kit

The SparkFun Inventor’s Kit (SIK) is a great way to get started with programming and hardware interaction with the Arduino programming language.

$89.95 $99.95

Qtechknow’s Ardusensor Learning Kit

This kit will help you get started with Arduino and sensors including button, flex, force, magnet, temperature, light, knock, and (of course) FART!

$46.75 $54.95

Arduino has inspired thousands of people around the world to make the coolest things they can imagine — from toys to satellite gear. Because, as Massimo Banzi says, “You don’t need anyone’s permission to make something great.”